Whereas 2009’s Divide & Conquer was filled with sultry, sparse tunes such as “Fistful of Swoon”, Washington DC-based outfit Vandaveer‘s third LP, Dig Down Deep, pays homage to frontman Mark Charles Heidinger’s southern twangy Kentucky roots – and does so with resounding success. The change is notable even from the first moments of the title track, when Heidinger’s characteristic coolness is replaced with a strong, resonant bellow. Add in the strings and Rose Guerin’s Emmylou-esque accompanying vocals, and conclude with an appeal to the country religious mythos (“By the grace of God/We can start again”), and the stage for the rest of the album is set.
By including all of the canonical elements of traditional folk and country music, Heidinger inevitably risks coming across as contrived. Fortunately, though, he avoids this coat-tailing, as the album is heartfelt and compelling. The chorus fiddle on “Concerning Past & Future Conquests” fits perfectly with the vocal harmony nearly screaming of frustrations, and mourning slide guitar mirrors the lyrical angst.
Although indulging in his roots, especially with the inclusion of a slide guitar, Heidinger makes sure not to completely abandon his old style. The lyrics throughout the album still struggle with complex themes, and the intimacy of the group’s previous work isn’t lost with the fuller instrumentation. Slow burner “Beat, Beat, My Heart” is the perfect example of this, for the confessional lyrics (“I’ll wager my fate for a glimpse of technicolor love”) are fragile and immediate but at the same time layered upon a lush bed of guitars, piano, and bass. It works together immensely well and completely swallows the listener in a swell of emotion.
The same can be said for the album: Dig Down Deep is an intricate, cohesive collection of heartfelt songs that offer music as rich as the lyrical content. It’s an emphatic demonstration of Vandaveer’s wide array of talents and an excellent addition to their catalogue.