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King Dude - Burning Daylight

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Artist: King Dude

Album: Burning Daylight

Label: Dais

Review date: Oct. 9, 2012

T.J. Cowgill sings like an undertaker, his baritone hollowed out, echoing like it’s in a well and fraying into stutters at the very low-end. His “whoa-oh-oh” sounds more like a moan of suffering than an element of melody. Burning Daylight, the third full-length attributed to his goth country alter ego King Dude, raises ghosts and hell in equal parts, twisting the proprietries of country blues into surreal pacts with darkness

Cowgill is a veteran of well-regarded Seattle metal bands like Teen Cthulu and Book of Black Earth, and proprietor of goth fashion outlet Actual Pain. He seems to have taken a turn toward country noire around 2010, when he self-recorded Tonight’s Special Death. Love, which, despite the title, no one should buy as a Valentine’s Day Gift, came out a year later. There have been a handful of singles and EPs, all in an echo-haunted, dread-scented style of country blues that has been stripped to bone-dry essentials: Cowgill’s voice and acoustic guitar.

Burning Daylight opens up the palette a bit with various sorts of percussion, electric guitar and occasional electronic distortions. Where Love’s “Lucifer Light of the World” sounds straightforward and unembellished as solo Billy Childish, Burning Daylight’s best songs emerge from an ominous fog of sounds. “Holy Land” careens forward on a clatter of tom toms and electric guitar, its angsty rush swathed in funereal echo, spectral trails of vibraslap shooting off in the margins. “I Know that You’re Mine” (for my money, the best ride on the disc) rattles and rampages like a wagon rolling downhill (or, possibly “a hearse in reverse”). It is the one song that seems overtly funny, the one that makes you wonder whether all the rest are intended as humorous, too.

The single, “Jesus in the Courtyard,” is made out of the same basic materials, an insistent, repetitive, electric blues riff, a delivery so straight that it has to be a put on, a certain disregard for conventional theology. Jesus, for instance, is described as “all dressed in black as midnight, the funeral’s his church, your misery’s his company, your sorrow is his hearse,” (i.e., not exactly the guy from “Let the little children come to me”). Every verse of the song ends in the refrain, “Don’t you want to know why?,” a line that is swallowed up in a rush of wind and echo, as if that line alone were sung by Satan himself as he sucks the whole song into a vortex.

Cowgill keeps up his death-sex-damnation schtick through almost the whole album with a remarkable consistency (and hardly any cracks in his serioso façade, if that’s what it is). Yet, there’s one song that is flat-out beautiful, still fairly ghostly, but in an entirely different, more elegiac way. That’s “My Mother Is the Moon,” sung (or more accurately whispered) by an unnamed woman against a shimmering mirage of echo and hiss and folk guitar picking. It’s an interval of serenity in the general roiling murk of Burning Daylight, completely unlike the rest of the album but no less welcome for that.

After this break, Cowgill unleashes a series of songs less concerned with the gravitational pull of evil, more open to the idea of salvation. He ends with “Lord, I’m Coming Home,” whose choir of angels open hints at better things post-mortem. Cowgill’s voice is a rancid croak, bleating lyrics about the celestial kingdom, and you can’t tell whether he’s any more serious about this end of the religious spectrum than the opposite one.

In the end, you just have to go with King Dude as he cranks rackety John Lee Hooker blues vamps over blasted landscapes where Jesus lies and Satan starts fires and no one can do a damned thing about it. He might be hiding a grin — it’s hard to say how seriously he’s taking his brand of Luciferian blues — but he’s hiding it pretty well. Johnny Cash, who stands over his shoulder like a black-dressed godfather, believed in god, the devil, heaven, hell and maybe even love. It’s hard to say what Cowgill believes, or whether his nightmare scenarios scare him or tickle his funny bone.

By Jennifer Kelly

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