Strand Of Oaks - Pope Killdragon
The themes of Showalter's lyrics are diverse. They also do not shy away from imagery which can be bizarre at times, and yet always seem to be incisive, even comic, and retain that personal touch. Take for instance the story of "Alex Kona", a twelve foot tall giant whose mother was killed by a bowling ball just as she was about to register a perfect score. The song is full of loneliness and melancholy and yet one cannot escape the ludicrously comic, yet somehow quite appropriate, demise of this unfeasibly large man's mother. Unbelievably, you do not feel like laughing.
One reason why this album would not make it as a commercial success is that it is one of those rare albums these days which requires repeated listens before it begins to grow on you. This is not an album full of memorable chant and respond refrains or catchy melodies. It is at times minimal - just Showalter and his guitar - while at other times a wider panoply of instrumentation is deployed. The influences are not at all clear, but Showalter springs from a well of American folk music that would include Dylan, Vetiver and Croce and stretch all the way back to Woody Guthrie. And yet, it is nothing like any of those artists. At times, there are power chords; at times there are Neil Young-esque musical structures, but always there is a unique feel to Pope Killdragon which defies pigeonholing.
Among the standout tracks is "Sterling". This describes a chance meeting with John F. Kennedy in the Sterling Hotel at a time, well it could be any time - before he became a senator or even after he died. The song crescendos until Showalter is chanting in an almost ritualistic fashion - "I saw him coming". On a different note is "Daniel's Blues", a song the like of which I find hard to provide a parallel. Imagine Dan Ackroyd singing a lament to John Belushi in the Blues Brothers - but this is the real Ackroyd singing about the real Belushi, except that it is Showalter in a touching and almost unsettling tribute to someone who would appear to be a hero to him. Amongst all this there are a couple of instrumentals, such as "Giant's Despair" which really does feature doom-metal laden power chords and, despite the contrast with the remainder of the album, does not seem at all out of place.
Showalter derives his imagery, it would seem, from a combination of his own litany of personal tragedy and a vivid imagination. The combination which results on this album is at times quite unsettling. Although not as autobiographical as his debut, Leave Ruin, Pope Killdragon still draws on personal experience in a manner which underpins individual songs rather than dominates them, rather like the metallic strip on a banknote defines it as the genuine article and distinguishes it from the fake and fraudulent. But there is nothing fake or fraudulent about Pope Killdragon. It is an intensely moving album which will reward the patient and open minded listener. But if you are one of those people who likes your music immediate, in your face (and perhaps forgettable in the long run) then this will not appeal.
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