Last year, I hung a perfect ten rating upon THE SWORD's dazzling and frankly ballsy "High Country" album. I stand by it a year later as THE SWORD takes the unplugged route with a mostly acoustic companion piece, "Low Country". To set the record straight about "Low Country", the ten songs revamped in stripped format were recorded prior to the release of "High Country", as opposed to any reactionary success the latter received. While nowhere near the triumph of the original source material, "Low Country" offers insight into the band's creative process, showing what can be had through alternate takes.Being a band from Texas, a lot of "Low Country" will ring of, well, country, but thankfully not today's mainstream country. We're talking pure country. Country you'd find in some protected quarter of Galveston, or Western music (a different breed, to be sure) in Colorado Springs. Conny Ochs and Matt Boroff are two underground artists who have found audiences amongst the metal sect; their earthy, folk-grounded work belonging more in cowboy revival films than on headbangers' playlists. Kudos for said open-mindedness. On the higher profile front, Zakk Wylde has further proven with "Book of Shadows II" that metalheads will readily gobble up acoustic material, even material grounded in blues and country. Accordingly, THE SWORD, a band that on "High Country" alarmed as much as enticed listeners with its pure rock extractions, takes a chance that Wylde, Ochs and Boroff are not flukes, and that metalheads will follow the band as it plays to its own whims here. "High Country", the title track, was so smartly written it stands to be reinvented as a twangy blues and country ditty in this presentation, and THE SWORD delivers it convincingly. "Mist & Shadow" is one of the best of these redone numbers. It's the sculpting of the guitars, from singular to collective, that gives it a new outlook; one bearing a slight gnash and offering John Cronise room to peek in and out vocally. The song reaches toward an apex where all guitars sing higher than he does. To opposite effect, Cronise and his backing-vocal posse gleam over the sparse echo chamber threatening to swallow up the plunking guitar melodies of "The Dreamthieves". In time, all synchronize and invite the listener toward its slowly rising hearth. "Seriously Mysterious" shimmies along a sooty melody with the implied inspiration of a weekend spent watching the Western Channel, and the pokey vibe carries into the rearrangement of "Early Snow". While breaking theme by including electric bass, and later, synthesizers (they also figure on "The Dreamthieves" and "Ghost Eye") and a brass section, the song incorporates the flavor of THE BLACK KEYS, thus reaffirming THE SWORD's present nudge toward straight rock. Both renditions of "Buzzards", this one being as far from acoustic as Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption", may have come before the death of Prince, but the "Low Country" version rings louder of tribute. The throwback drum machine and dirty electric guitar rakes ringing of early '80s Minneapolis. It's awkward, no doubt about it, but you don't evolve as artists without taking a few chances, even just for fun. What if Prince had never recorded the guitar-heavy "Bambi" in 1979? How this risky noodling sits with THE SWORD's longtime fans will be a point of contention going into the band's next full-length. Some of "Low Country" is superb, some of it curious expansions often with sweet payoffs, like the mandolin-aided strut of "The Bees of Spring". A lot of unnecessary pressure has been placed upon "Low Country" by the music press, naturally holding it accountable to one of THE SWORD's most acclaimed yet scrutinized albums. "Low Country" is irreverent, and, at times, weird, but not even the band itself had to consider this anything more than loving the hell out of the music it has created at this point in its career.
To comment on a BLABBERMOUTH.NET story or review, you must be logged in to an active personal account on Facebook. Once you're logged in, you will be able to comment. User comments or postings do not reflect the viewpoint of BLABBERMOUTH.NET and BLABBERMOUTH.NET does not endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of, any user comment. To report spam or any abusive, obscene, defamatory, racist, homophobic or threatening comments, or anything that may violate any applicable laws, use the "Report to Facebook" and "Mark as spam" links that appear next to the comments themselves. To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook comment (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action. You can also send an e-mail to blabbermouthinbox(@)gmail.com with pertinent details. BLABBERMOUTH.NET reserves the right to "hide" comments that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate and to "ban" users that violate the site's Terms Of Service. Hidden comments will still appear to the user and to the user's Facebook friends. If a new comment is published from a "banned" user or contains a blacklisted word, this comment will automatically have limited visibility (the "banned" user's comments will only be visible to the user and the user's Facebook friends).