Split Lip Rayfield – Never Make it Home

Split Lip Rayfield
Never Make it Home

I have to admit I’m a sucker for good PR, so when a CD turns up on my doorstep labeled Appalachian Black Sabbath, I was hooked. All it took were about three songs of this, Split Lip Rayfield’s third release, and I was reeled in and bagged, my throat ready to be slit open as long as the music kept playing.
First point of audacity – the great chorus of track one, that rhymes “never will forgive you” with “movin’ to Virginia.” Second point – the big ass intro thump of “Record Shop” that turns out to be a bass made out of an old Ford gas tank. Third and most beautiful – Kirk Rundstrom’s 28-year-old-Jagger-on-smack vocals, all sex and sneer entwined with regret and loss, helped out by the rest of the band letting loose; it’s scary to hear four grown men groaning, “You take all your chances on me.”
The band is part banjo, part acoustic guitar, part car-part bass, with the occasional mandolin and harmonica popping up when needed. Each listen brings something new – listen to “Thief” and it’s all banjo possessed that grabs you at first. Listen again, and you realise you’re hearing the tale of a man condemned to hell for screwing both the rector’s daughters. There’s little coincidence these guys come from the same place William Burroughs chose to grow pot and shoot visitors.
I know I’m enthusing wildly here, but for once it’s deserving. This CD has traveled with me across five stereos and two states; it’s had 5-year-olds dancing and 35-year-olds singing along within minutes; and it’s had me tapping along (Geoff don’t do dancing) and eyes aglow at 2 a.m. Maybe it’s the feeling of finally hearing something new, ironically in a musical form that has been around for the better parts of two centuries. Perhaps it’s the pop sensibilities of uppity tunes that smooth over the sense of desolation and despair, a trick Big Star and the Velvet Underground, among others, could always pull off. And maybe it’s just the feeling I get, listening to something I know is special, something that writhes and wrestles with demons and somehow manages to get it all across in a three minutes song like “Used to Call Me Baby.” Whatever it is, I’m a convert, and I know this is one of the best releases I’m likely to hear this year.