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Rod Picott Rod Picott
Album: Out Past The Wires
Label: Welding Rod
Tracks: 22
Website: http://www.rodpicott.com

Picott has been busy writing in the two years since the release of Fortune, to the extent that the follow-up album is a two-disc set comprising 22 numbers (whittled down from 78), one that runs the gamut from heads down rockers to intimate ballads, keeping the quality level high throughout even if the lyrical mood rarely nudges into the light. In addition to which he's also written a screenplay, a collection of poems and there's an accompanying collection of short stories that expands on the characters in the songs.

Again produced by Neilson Hubbard and with regular team members Will Kimbrough (guitar), Evan Hutchings (drums), Kris Donegan (guitar) and strings arranger David Henry joined by Lex Price on bass, the first disc opens with 'Be My Bonnie', a huskily sung ballad that, presumably drawing on the myth rather than the bloody reality, offers up Bonnie and Clyde as romantic role models. Introduced by 'Love Me Do'-styled harmonica, 'Better Than I Did' picks up the tempo with Hutchings' thumping drum beat driving along a song about taking a look at yourself and not recognising who you see.

If 'Take Home Pay' sounds familiar, that's because, co-written by Slaid Cleaves, it was on his Ghost on the Car Radio album last year, as indeed was the following track, 'Primer Gray', the former, with much the same twangy feel, about the struggles that come with growing older, the second, taken at a slower, more reflective pace, about how it's what's under the hood, not how the paintwork looks that matters.

There's two other Cleaves co-writes, the similarly themed mid-paced 'Fire Inside' and, on disc 2, 'Falling Down', its feathery feel counterpointed by a lyric about a baby crying for a young mother who's not coming home that serves as a metaphor for unanswered prayers and those who slip through the cracks.

Meanwhile, back on disc 1, the strummed punchily melodic 'On The Way Down' has a decided Steve Earle touch while, immediately following, 'Blanket Of Stars' has a folksier acoustic feel to its light, circling melody, though again the lyrics about how we are all connected strike a heavier note. 'A Better Man' lifts the tempo again and brings back the electric guitars while 'Coal' throbs along on a dry bass drum beat that underscores its dark narrative about a miner's life. The discs' remaining two tracks are both plaintive acoustic numbers, 'Holding On' a defiant blue-collar number about battling the storms life sends to be rewarded in the hereafter and 'Date of Grace' a bittersweet love song, its wistful memories of a past romance complemented by Henry's strings and Kimbrough's acoustic guitar.

The lost love mood continues into the second disc, lonesome harmonica opening up the muted guitars and brushed drums-based 'Dead Reckoning', Telisha Williams from Wild Ponies, providing the harmonies, while, similarly low key, 'The Shape Of You' is a dreamily sad song mining the same theme.

Picott's songs are frequently populated by blue collar characters looking to find small victories in a hard scrabble world and there's some striking examples here. 'Store Bought' is another Earle-like mid-tempo chug, the narrator working hard to finally have something to his name that isn't secondhand while, a sort of meeting between Tom Petty's 'Wildflowers' and 'I Won't Back Down' with its ringing guitar line, 'Hard Lucky Baby' recounts a young girl from a small town summed up by a liquor store, high school and unemployment office and her struggle to find a scrap of hope.

Desperation and the search for escape in the bottle are at the heart of 'Bottom of the Well' with its delicate circling guitar pattern and lyrics about how young dreams can crash and burn and also the Tasha Thomas co-penned dusty shuffle 'Medicine Man' where, weary for the inability to sleep, he sings about "being tired of myself."

Balanced against this feeling of resignation, there's also the resolve to not go under and take responsibility, such as on 'Straight Job', a bluesy, harmonica wailing number about having to put aside wild ways and get steady work to take care of the kid that's on the way, while the moody acoustic dry narrative 'Diamonds In The Dirt' is about rising from the gutter of despair and hurt and learning to count your blessings. Hope also slips through the cracks on a simple acoustic fingerpicking melody and drum thump as he sings how 'We All Live On' in our children and"the love we carry."

It closes on a soulful grace note of acceptance as, coloured by haunting dobro, 'Little Things' finds him "looking rough and feeling rougher"and singing how hard times make your heart and arm stronger and how "it's too much to ask for mercy, so you hold on and pray for little things", tie your boots and lift your face up to the altar for "even a fool will have his day."His most ambitious and best album to date, these wires are electrifying.

Mike Davies