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The Dead South: Bluegrass goes gloomy and gonzo

Monday 05th, January 2015 / 18:56
By B. Simm

deadsouthCALGARY — Although released way back in 2000, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack sparked a resurgence in bluegrass music. With its distinctive vocal harmonies, the genre continues to see acoustic ensembles sprouting up to host brunches, mid-afternoon jam sessions and rowdy, late-nighter, beer-soaked barrooms. The Dead South, from Regina, Sask., a rousing, versatile, fingerpickin’, four-piece falls into the booze ‘n’ boot-stompin’ category.

Featuring a mandolin, banjo, cello, guitar, a thumpin’ bass drum and gruff, howling vocal leads, The Dead South are a diesel burnin’ variety of bluegrass roaming freely along various musical roadways. Scott Pringle, the band’s mandolin player, says, “Between the four of us we listened to it all — punk and heavy metal, folk and roots, classical, hip hop, rock, you name it.”

In addition to all the regular bluegrass ingredients, The Dead South incorporate some Celtic sea-shanties, minor key metal and eastern Euro folk riffs with the cello lending a baroque classical mood. Lots of interesting material gets tossed in the blender, and it comes out full flavour, definitely not a shit mix.

Pringle explains, “When the four of us started jamming together we did not have any intention to create a certain sound or purposely bend and cross genres. The music we made was very much the natural product of four guys with different musical tastes, talent and abilities coming together. We set out to make acoustic music that we, and hopefully others, would enjoy without taking ourselves too seriously. The gritty and rowdy bluegrass, yet, at times, a dark and gloomy sound is what we naturally produced.”

The addition of Daniel Kenyon, their trained cellist, provides some refreshing diversity building on traditional roots. Pringle notes, “the cello played as a bass but incorporating ‘fiddle’ solos or deep bowing adds a lot of tonal variety, while the banjo and mandolin contribute to that old-timey sound.”

The Dead South weave dark, sometimes spooky, Southern tales that tap more into gothic mythologies instead of actual personal experiences. But it’s fun stuff with band members adopting and putting a spin on their own stage characters. Dressed in bolo ties, suspenders, white shirts and black pants, they’re are up for the stage show with choreographed dance moves, beer chugging, foot stomps, hand claps and props. At the same time it’s not a dog and pony novelty act: there’s a lot of deep, powerful sentiment and raw emotion in embedded in the songs and delivery.

“Most of our songs,” says Pringle, “are stories often about people that get themselves into trouble. We are all fans of Spaghetti Westerns, Grindhouse films and shows like Deadwood and Hell On Wheels, from which we draw inspiration.” Adding, “there’s a lot of drinking, running away, fights, murder and barren landscapes” contained within the frame.

All that rambunctious energy and vivid storytelling comes pouring out on The Dead South’s recent release, Good Company. Produced by Orion Pradias at SoulSound Studio in Regina, the band easily transcend the compressed limitations of a studio performance their live-off-the-floor romp. That, and “lots of whiskey, pizza and coffee,” adds Pringle..

Last May at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, the band connected with DevilDuck Records, a German label, who released their recording in November. In January the band starts a month long European tour to promote the record.

Drink, dance, hoot and holler with The Dead South at the Palomino, Fri. Jan. 9.

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