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The Black Twig Pickers - Rough Carpenters

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Artist: The Black Twig Pickers

Album: Rough Carpenters

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 19, 2013

The celebration of life by way of Appalachian folk tales and moonshine jigs continues with The Black Twig Pickers on their eighth album, Rough Carpenters. That’s just the thing that’s always struck me (and a lot of other people, it turns out) about what makes them so special: There is an evident joie de vivre in all of their recordings, from the languid lament on one end of something like “Where the Whippoorwills Are Whispering Goodnight” to the manic joy ride of last year’s Whompyjawed EP on the other, that is difficult to duplicate. The group’s great trick is in making dead music come alive and you’d be hard pressed to find a review of either their recordings or their live performances that didn’t mention as much.

Add this one to the pile. Rough Carpenters thankfully does not shift gears in search of new angles on an old art. Recorded in as few takes as possible during the same two-day session as Whompyjawed, it feels akin to those two recordings in its generally upbeat pace despite a very different format. While the inexhaustible Whompyjawed showed the Twigs as masters of long-form potency befitting regulars of a Friday Night Jamboree, Rough Carpenters returns to the varied approach of previous full-lengths. The fidelity is significantly higher than their albums leading up to Ironto Special, but that isn’t a significant distraction.

There are but a few tweaks to the usual rough carpentry here. Sally Anne Morgan is now on board full time as second fiddler to complement Mike Gangloff. Live, you’ll allegedly find the band dancing more; on record, her fiddling mimics and occasionally (as on “You Play the High Card and I’ll Play the Ace”) intertwines with Gangloff’s for a looser feel. “Roll on John” and “Jack of Diamonds” also benefit from Morgan’s vocals at a richer, higher octave than Gangloff’s nasally familiar drawl and infrequent yelp. Additionally, the group is straying from the confines of southwestern Virginia in their source material with songs like “Banks of the Arkansas” and “Charleston Girls” (though I’m not sure if they’re referring to West Virginia or South Carolina as I don’t have the handy booklet complete with song histories and tunings).

Not much of a change then, is it? But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Of all people, The Black Twig Pickers know. The music they play has survived decades and generations. If we’re lucky, it will survive them and us, too.

By Patrick Masterson

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