His new self-released album, The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones, is authentically raw and a decidedly dark back room confessional infused with blues guitars, old amps, resonators, slides, trash cans, and whatever else he and his friends could get their hands on. But the real soul of Durham's music, if you were to strip it all back, comes down to the strings, songwriting, and the pipes to carry it.
"It is my agony put into words and music via 11 songs," Durham explains. "It is the story of building dreams and tearing down those dreams all in the same moment."
He sees himself as both the shovel and the howling bones — the man burying himself in the ground while protesting the burial at the same time. Durham is deadly poetic, singing stories with the passion of someone who knows the back story of how they came to be.
Mud Puddles, one of the best of the bunch, digs into the deep of it. Durham sings I got a nickel that I keep here in my pocket. I got these snakeskin boots here wrapped around my feet. I got a picture that I keep here in a locket of a woman who's much too good for me.
He tells the tale like a matter-of-fact condition of his existence, a drifter who doesn't have anything left to do but carry on and away from the sins, mistakes, and mishaps that decorate his life. We don't know why or what or who leads to his misery and we don't have to. It's like looking at a snapshot of a man.
Other tracks are just like that. Drifting Wood is about floating along like driftwood, and letting the stream carry you away to the end. Last Red Dawn touches on knowing, somehow, that it could be the last sunset you'll ever see. And Reckoning Lament captures several sad figures in a darkened picture, despite an uptempo tone.
Also check out the Southern brooder Georgia Lee, the rugged toughness in People Of The Land, and the working man looniness in Tucker's Love Song. While the theme and pace may be generally the same, Durham has a way of keeping each song fresh by mixing in instruments and other talents to support him.
The freshness of an authentic player and his support.
Throughout the album, Durham picks up any number of guitars, including a 1929 Gibson HG-22, 1964 Gibson J-45, fiddle, and harmonica. And all the songs also feature the talents of stickman Rick Richards on everything from drums to trash cans and bird feeders.
Sporadically, guests include Jeff Plankenhorn (mandolin), Ray Wylie Hubbard (guitar), Bucca Allen (piano, accordion), Derek O'Brian (guitar), and George Reiff (guitar). Backup vocals include a host of talents like Idgy Vaughn, Alissa Durham, Clay Berkes, and all the accompanying musicians on occasion.
Together they deliver something that touches on where rock and roll began. It began with dirty blues, and stories that make you know a man. In this case, it's a young fiddler who followed his artistic path someplace remarkably different. And even if you wouldn't think so, you can't help but to dig it.
The same can be said about his stage presence too. Even before Durham plays his first note or sings his first line, he has a look that lets you know something is coming from deep inside. And then he lets it loose with every bit of himself thrown into the mix.
The Shovel Vs. The Howling Bones Invokes A 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
All and all, it's the tone, texture, and tenor of this artist that makes you pay attention. He has an authority about him that will easily convince you that his first self-release is exactly that. It's his first because Durham is going to be around for a long time.
The Shovel Vs. The Howling Bones is available for download on iTunes. The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones is also available on CD or digital download from Amazon. Expect some of the songs to climb the charts in the weeks ahead. The cross-genre appeal will carry them.