February is the month of despair, to quote Margaret Atwood. It’s always grey, spring is still too far away, and for an extra dose of cruelness, there’s a consumer driven “holiday” “celebrating” “love” right in the middle. The first album from Owen Sound’s Black Country is promoted as “a study in depression” so it goes without saying that it is a perfect companion for your February-induced sadness.
Not unlike winter itself, Josh Richardson’s Black Country is bleak and unhurried. The country-infused soundscape moves at its own pace, moaning like a freezing lake or the wicked wind blowing across the tundra. Throughout, it sounds as if Richardson has battled the elements for too long and has no strength to lift his voice above a listless growl. “White Man (You Ruined Everything)” drips with Richardson’s distain while in “Long Winter,” he delivers this downer of a line in a sing-speak deliver: “It’s a long, long winter and we’re all gonna die.”
Similar to the relief the sun offers after a particularly gloomy stretch of days, the bright spots amongst all this melancholy are when Megan Hamilton’s reviving voice pops up. The trudge of the title track gets a little easier when Hamilton joins the march, like-wise in the booze-heavy, Cohen-esq, waltz of “Slow Dancing,” she is the light reflected from a mirror-ball to Richardson’s sad country song, a familiar and welcomed scent of perfume to his stale cigarette smoke. They are a perfect partnership.
In the closer “Deep Dark Blue,” Black Country reaches a thunderous climax of frustration. At ten minutes, the song breaks out its country shell and morphs into an aggressive psych-rock entity that’s charged by an anger directed at the self and the season and a desperation to leave it all behind.
Take comfort in the fact that February is the shortest month and also that Black Country is there for you.
Top Track: “Slow Dancing”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)