Deadstring Brothers – S/T

The Deadstring Brothers struck a good note with me before I even listened to the disc, because I really dug the simple hand-stamped packaging that brings me back. The sticker on the back tells me to “think Gram Parsons meets Hank Williams at Nick Cave’s house for a drink or three,” and I know that I will like this album immensely.
Based out of Detroit, the band originally started in 2001 as a duo of Kurt Marschke on vocals and guitar (also of Sponge fame) and Pete Ballard on pedal steel and dobro. Deadstring Brothers soon added Aric Karpinski (piano, organ), William King (drums, percussion), and Philip Skarich (bass, percussion, backing vocals), and the group has been getting noticed for their interesting take on Americana. With the inclusion of dobro and pedal steel, it would be easy to assume that the Deadstring Brothers are a country band or at least alt-country in the vein of Wilco or the Old 97’s, but the music here is more of an amalgamation of styles.
Album opener “I’m Not a Stealer” definitely has an alt-country vibe, but the rock and blues influences are much more prevalent. The arrangement is a perfect and from the beginning you note that these guys are giving it all they’ve got. Though it’s a laidback tune, from the very first listen the melody is contagious. “Entitled” is the one truly upbeat track, and it cranks up the attitude level quite a bit. These two are easily my favorite tracks on the album because everything else takes a rather melancholy turn that you really need to be in the mood for.
“I Know You Dear” sounds straight out of a Western flick and really shows off the Deadstring Brothers’ penchant for country music. The same is true of “Jones Street,” another of the more exceptional slower tracks. The band also includes a cover of “Long Black Veil” that took a few listens to truly grow on me, largely because I’m so used to hear Johnny Cash singing it.
While there are a few songs on this album that I could take or leave, the Deadstring Brothers do a fine job with their debut. With a touch more honing of their songwriting skills, the band’s next release could be extraordinary and really place the Deadstring Brothers on the map as yet another great group out of Detroit. These guys have a genuineness that many alt-country and bluesy outfits lack, which will surely give them an edge in the future.