There’s a noticeable pattern that follows all post-modern blues purveyors. Stylistically they seem to start north in the woods of New York, and end up following their roots south to the delta. Taylor Kirk, or Timber Timbre, has arrived in a way with his third record, but has still managed to keep a strong hold on his gypsy flair. This self-titled go-around is different though, and for followers it may turn some heads.
From the opening lines of Timber Timbre you can tell something has changed. Since releasing his first effort back in 2006, Kirk has spent most of his time creating an isolationist’s dream out of his home studio. But now he has stumbled upon something that’s musical gold, and has learned the age-old lesson that sometimes simpler can be better.
Now this is not to say that Kirk’s first two efforts were anything to sweep under the dusty porch planks. His first, 2006’s Cedar Shakes, was full of low-fi campfire blues taking cues from Appalachia’s best. Tracks like “Mercy” and “I’m A Long Way” were as simple as gospel-style country blues could be. His voice layered with itself to create heart-wrenching sing-alongs, reviving a backwoods style that hasn’t been heard since we had mandatory war rations. With 2007’s Medicinals, he broadened things out, bringing in new sounds with the same dusty feel, only that time he went farther south with the slow claps and lazy horns of tracks like “Demon Host” and “Like a Mountain”. Needless to say, the Carter Family would be very proud.
On this self-titled offering, something happened. All the elements of the last two records are there, but he’s veered in a new direction, and it’s never more evident than in the shape his voice has taken now that the recording has been cleaned up a bit. The scratchy distance has been replaced by heavy reverb that translates into all elements of the record, creating a deep croon that commands you to listen.
From the opening notes, it hits you. Kirk’s vocal chords have shifted and become deeper and more soulful than before, if that was even possible. Without all the fuzz, you can now finally hear him for who he really is. There was a sense of that on Medicinals, but his style has become even more pronounced, separating him completely from the Devendra Banharts of the world. It’s safe to say that the opening vocals on “Demon Host” successfully raised a few hairs on the back of my neck, and when the chorus behind him chimes in, the rest followed suit.
Where the album takes us next is nothing short of stunning. Kirk has traded in his piano for an organ, and the bouncy bluesy notes of “Lay Down in The Tall Grass” glows in the darkness of his words as he sings, “Will you beg for forgiveness, will you pray to be saved, or will you choke your children when they spit in your face?” It is chilling, but with style. Those keys will become a theme for the record, replacing the horns and percussion of the past. Soft violins accompany “We’ll Find Out” to tell the story of a convicted killer awaiting his final moments in the electric chair. It’s a sad tale that opens with stirring questions, showing us that even pure souls have demons waiting to come out.
“I Get Low” and “Trouble Comes A Knocking” are tracks taken right from Blues 101. The tunes carry familiar melodies and words of further self-loathing, as he wrestles with his past decisions and offers warning that what comes around goes around. The latter brings back the strings for the familiar gypsy element as the notes swirl into a frenzied fade. The record finishes off with a country ballad that is more akin to the first time we heard him a few years ago. It draws to a close what is a fresh-yet-quieter take on Timber Timbre, with help from lazy violins and his simple strums.
What started in the heat of the south, at some point moved to the cold of the north. The farther north you go today, the more traditional the music seems to be getting, and Timber Timbre is further proof. It’s a heavy album, but not so heavy that it can’t be listened to on a regular basis — quite the opposite, really. Kirk engages you in such a way that you’ll want to go back for more and pick deeper into his troubled simplicity.