The Norman Transcript

June 14, 2013

Music review: Deadstring Brothers’ sound endearingly scuffed

By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Album name: Cannery Row (2013, Bloodshot Records)

Musician: Deadstring Brothers

Why you should listen: John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel “Cannery Row” is about a scruffy community of friends in Monterey, Calif., during the Great Depression. Deadstring Brothers’ fifth studio album with the same title is about America during the early 21st century depression. Guitarist and vocalist Kurt Marschke founded the band in 2003. He has taken a sharp turn onto country gravel roads since 2009’s Rolling Stones-inflected “São Paulo” record.

Resonator guitar, pedal steel, dobro, banjo and harmonica give “Cannery Row” the flavor of a hayseed hipster’s Grand Ole Opry pipe dream. It was recorded at Nashville’s The Reel and mixed at Welcome to 1979. Marschke tapped a half dozen other musicians along with Motor City homeboy JD Mack on bass for the project. The title track is a piano ballad expressing the hopes, dreams and disappointments of “…life’s cruel show.” In its fleeting moments the song deftly blends poetic vignettes of Army widows, working men with lunch pails in hand and the gritty neighborhoods we call home. “I see the brakeman on a diesel power train/ stop a hundred tons of steel in the pouring rain…,” recalls the finest of any American lyrical imagery in any age.

For all the obvious delightful reasons Deadstring Brothers are compared to the Stones’ “Exiles on Main Street.” But the truer and more complimentary match is with Little Feat and particularly their masterpiece “Sailing Shoes” (1972) album. Marschke’s original songs have flawless, sometimes endearingly scuffed style. His ear for America is a satisfying and soulful thing.