Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.
Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.
I’ve often compared Red Sammy to Tom Waits, as Adam Trice’s gravelly baritone and minor-key acoustic musings drew a pretty clear line between the two of them. However, the relationship is less clear on Creeps and Cheaters: Trice moves his outfit into its own territory by incorporating swampy Southern rock (“King on the Road”) and CCR-esque country-rock (“Seeds”) alongside his ominous, minor-key acoustic tunes.
The base sound is still there: opener “Dirty Water” situates the listener in a dark, seedy bar and delivers the gravelly rasp that I’ve come to love. The walking-speed tempo, subtly dramatic electric guitar and lyrical images of the underbelly of society (“I’m the dog that roams the streets” / “dirty water dripping down”) are all square in the wheelhouse–until the end, where Trice jumps an octave, gets all ratcheted up and pushes the bounds of his voice. It serves to change the mood, and that shift is continued throughout the record.
“I Got Creepy When Lou Reed Died” continues the vocal shift by being more akin to Reed’s work in the Velvet Underground than a country-rock song. Trice’s voice shines as the arrangement frames his pipes in an unique way. The aforementioned “King on the Road” and “Seeds” turn out different vibes too, allowing Trice to get out some great punctuating yawps in the rock’n’roll style. “Hanging with Uncle Elvis on Christmas” sees another turn, going more traditionally country with a dobro guitar and a clean vocal delivery. Trice’s vocals are still recognizably his own, but this performance shows that he can give the listener a lot of different looks. It’s one of the prettiest songs he’s ever put to tape–mostly because Red Sammy songs aren’t shooting for “pretty” in the conventional sense most of the time.
And there are some of the back alley tunes that he’s come to specialize in: the ominous vibe of “Lawnchair” sounds just like it should, fitting like a coat that doesn’t quite keep out the cold. “Take a Ride” pulls out a similar vibe. The centerpiece of the record is the 6:31 of “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” which IC had the pleasure of premiering. The whole band sounds assured and tight, coming together to create a seamless tune that rolls along effortlessly, like a lazy river in fall. It distills all that this album is about into one track: starts off in his pensive style, but grows to a different mood with some excellent electric guitar work.
Creeps and Cheaters shirks genre barriers and instead makes excellent tunes. If you’re interested in any type of alt-country, you’ll be interested in Red Sammy’s take on things. The growth that this album shows points to great things in the future, but that shouldn’t minimize the great things now: Creeps and Cheaters is the sound of a band hitting its stride and not slowing down.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.