This is Lucas Paine's fifth release and a giant leap forward from the self consciously earnest folk songs to be heard on earlier albums like Sometimes You Fly (2009) and Where The Pavement Ends (2013).
In the course of seven tunes and just 22 minutes Paine rages quietly yet intensely armed with banjo, percussion, bows and guitar fired by a fierce contempt for the destructive archetypes of masculinity and patriarchy.
His increased ambition and heightened focus is evident from the album notes in which Paine writes: "This collection of songs intends to subvert and explode the violence and madness in gender normative characters from old folk traditions".
The melody for Black Ram Shuffle is inspired by the traditional Bluegrass song 'Bright Sunny South' with lyrics (including the black ram symbolism) partly taken from Dylan Thomas' poem 'Altarwise by owl light'. It presents the creation myth from Eve's perspective and is about the loss of naivety and learning life lessons from bitter experience. It ends provocatively with the line "I fucked Adam and god it was awful".
In To The Woods Paine draws from the deep, dark well of spooked murder ballads of the kind to be found on Harry Smith's monumental Anthology of American Folk Music. It includes some chilling imagery such as the lines "Bones in the trees girls, fingers in the wind". In his notes to this song Paine explains why he deliberately adopts an ambiguous point of view: "We have a song tradition celebrating domestic violence against women. I'm over it".
Elf River Blues takes a traditional fiddle tune and links the biblical story of the prodigal son with Paine's own wanderings overseas while his family had to struggle with the economic downturn in the States. He was raised in Alaska but is now based in Melbourne, Australia where this mini album was recorded.
The record's highlight is Hunting For Anne is a musical arrangement of a haunting and haunted poem by e.e. cumming - 'hunting for anne looking for will'. To give a flavour of this powerful piece, one stanza begins with the line "Black hell upon you and all filthy men".
There are also literary associations behind Wings Of Rusty Knives. This was composed by Paine but inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca's essay 'Play and Theory of the Duende' and presents a kind of manic dance song for the quick and dead.
Sung One Down is a lament for men who struggle to overcome the macho stereotypes yet are too often find themselves obliged to present a hard-hearted image to the world for fear of ridicule.
Raleigh & Spencer is a version of a traditional song probably named after two towns in North Carolina, Paine's birth place. This tune is normally rendered as a lively drinking song but, in keeping with the melancholy tone of this record, he and guitarist Jim E.James deliver it with an introspective sense of fatalism. The serious mood of this track and the record as a whole is brilliantly sustained.
Paine takes a old-time banjo-driven mountain holler yet makes it sound radical and contemporary. A further paradox is the way he finds his own voice despite often using the words of other writers.
In short, he turns something old, borrowed and blue into something new.
Black Ram at Bandcamp