Tin Horn Prayer – Get Busy Dying

Tin Horn Prayer GBD coverHas the patch of ground on which country and punk hybrids grow always been this fertile? Perhaps it’s just a side effect of getting deeper into the music reviewing gig, and being sent records by US PRs that I wouldn’t otherwise come across, but it sure seems like there are a lot more of them these days. No bad thing, though, with the earthiness of country rock and the unpretentious passion of punk making good bedfellows.

So Tin Horn Prayer, from Denver, are walking in the mighty footsteps of predecessors like Drag the River and Uncle Tupelo, and from the off you’ll recognise the similarities. A strong sense of nostalgia. Gruff whiskey & cigarette vocals. Themes like self-medicating with alcohol and dealing with growing older. Maybe country is just where US punks start to turn when they want to age a little more gracefully… or at least a little less disgracefully. Or perhaps country music just represents such a monolithic part of American culture that I can’t see it from where I’m standing.

Whatever; it’s good shit, and I dig listening to it. Especially offbeat and tongue-in-cheek tunes like ‘Crime Scene Cleanup’, a song that is essentially a darkly humorous apology to the eponymous cleanup crew for the mess the narrator will have left behind after a messy suicide. As subject matter goes this wins the rare accolade of being something I’ve never heard before. The music’s jaunty and a lot of fun, too; well-matched to the lyrical black humour.

There are traces of the same humour elsewhere, as in ‘Crowbait’, a song acknowledging that “youthful self-destruction’s not so simple” any more. The song’s a bit of a sad but upbeat campfire number; at the same time as bemoaning feeling tired and getting old and losing the live fast, die young attitude, there’s a tacit acceptance of this change and a number of self-deprecating lines. It’s no Snuff’s ‘Marbles’ (“put me out to pasture / wheel me out to graze”) but it manages to simultaneously make a joke of a situation it’s taking seriously.

Elsewhere, some songs do seem genuinely serious: ‘Wretch’ tackles the lost innocence of childhood, juxtaposing it with the burdens and despair of adulthood. ‘Louis Collins’ sounds like it might be a(n upbeat) eulogy to a dead friend. ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ is a journey song – all dark clouds overhead and trails – and I suspect may be a take on a traditional song, or at the very least a traditional theme.

There are rockier numbers, too, such as the pacey opener ‘Better Living’, a rocky, distorted number (which, incidentally, sets the tone well: “The days keep getting shorter and I can’t recall the nights”), or the occasionally crunchy and thoroughly melancholic ‘Memory’, or even ‘Devil Makes Me’, which is slower and more mournful but sees the guitars lent a bit of an 80s classic rock vibe through subtle use of effects.

Get Busy Dying has a few highlights, and these for me are mostly where the band get a little more playful and more prepared to inject some humour into their storytelling. By comparison there’s no shortage of bands writing country-rock songs dealing with loneliness, depression, growing older and lost friends; whilst these are worthy and time-worn themes, they also don’t carry the spark of uniqueness that helps something live in the mind. But at the very least, give ‘Crime Scene Cleanup’ a listen, and if you like that, listen a little further. There’s plenty here to like.

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