16 Horsepower are cool. The make great, roots-oriented, bluegrass inspired country-rock with massive attitude. They're immensely talented and capable of producing extraordinary music. Thus they were dropped from Warner Bros. Records, probably so they could sign another boy-band. Or perhaps to fund a rap-metal fusion band's tour.
Sometimes, I fucking hate the world. (For honesty's sake I guess I should tell you that they were actually on Slash records, not Warner Bros. proper. But Warner Bros. owns Slash so it's a moot point at best.)
This is the band's third release. The first two had a much more raw sound. Strangely enough it seems that being kicked back into the land of indie-rock has slickened the band's sound. Normally it works the other way around, but hey, there's always the exception to prove the rule, right? The imagery and gestalt of David Edwards' lyrics are still the same; religious zealotry and morbid love lost tossed together in a melancholy salad, served with a side dressing of sinner's pride sending it all straight to hell. But the music has been mixed much more traditionally than the previous two albums. Or perhaps the instrumentation is just a bit closer to regular-old-rock-band this time around. I'm not really sure.
There's not as noticeable of a banjo sound on Secret South, but the fiddle and upright bass are still prominent. There's a little more piano/keys on this one, and a lot more straight, rock guitar. But hey, it's not Matchbox 20 or anything.
Standout tracks include Clogger, Poor Mouth, Nobody 'Cept You, and Strawfoot, with the latter of those being one of the best songs I've heard this band record. There's also a pretty cool version of the traditional ballad Wayfaring Stranger, better, I think, than the arrangement of the same song you'll find on the latest Johnny Cash record.
All told, I think Secret South is probably a step down from Low Estate (their second album, which was simply brilliant), but it's still pretty damned good. If you like a little twangy-twangy with your mostly rock songs, give it a try.
Five sponges. They lose two sponges for allowing so damned many ex-Deadheads to infiltrate their live shows, making it virtually impossible for a regular guy to get a ticket anymore.