Album Review: Dead Reckoning by The Builders and the Butchers
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
PopMatters - 90 Based on rating 9/10
The first thing you have to get past is the voice. Ryan Sollee’s tremulous warble is a nasal concoction reminiscent of Colin Meloy, though less melodic, more twangy, and inflected with a certain stomach-clenching angst. It is thin and none too steady, and may be an acquired taste. I think of it as something that a listener will decide upon, thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down style, in about ten seconds flat.
The Builders and the Butchers make records the way the bards used to pass on stories. They’re poetic and captivating, and do to songwriting what Clint Eastwood does to movies. On its fourth album, Dead Reckoning, the band continues that tradition, pounding out 12 more boot-stomping folk rock tracks, all with an epic story line to keep the listener riveted.
Dead Reckoning meshes comfortably with the B&Bs’ reputation for energy-sparked, straight-laced Americana—lyrics are belted by Ryan Sollee with a Jonathan Edwards–like fervor (by way of Colin Meloy). Yet the pacing, paranoid angst that seeps through only feigns a progressive edge. It’s clear the gospel influences are not ones of rejoiceful uplift.
Southern Gothic meets Bernie Madoff Portland’s The Builders and the Butchers work the Southern Gothic folk territory of The Handsome Family and The Louvin Brothers. Papa drinks, mama prays, and the devil roams the woods behind the cabin. Dead Reckoning, the band’s third album, doesn’t vary the formula much from 2009’s breakout Salvation is a Deep Dark Well.
Babies burn, oceans overflow, family trees don't fork; Dead Reckoning, the third LP from Portland's the Builders and the Butchers, plays out a little like Cormac McCarthy Unplugged, a ramshackle 19th century end-times sermon gone folk-rock. "The whole world's rotten to the core," singer Ryan Sollee reminds us with a howl on the album's most cathartic chorus. We may already be this screwed, the Builders and the Butchers seem to be suggesting throughout Dead Reckoning.
The Builders and Butchers combine folksy Americana with a hybrid of Celtic and Southern gothic traditions, creating a sound that doesn’t evoke one specific location as much as a patchwork of long-forgotten places. The guys keep things loose on their third album, Dead Reckoning, whose 12 songs were recorded in a series of live takes with few overdubs. The result isn’t as lushly textured as Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well, which found the Builders beefing up their old-time folk songs with 21st century production, but it’s far more representative of their live show.