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Rod Picott Rod Picott
Album: Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil
Label: Welding Rod
Tracks: 12

Last winter Picott thought he was going to die, a heart issue that also involved back surgery. He recovered, but, having faced mortality, as you do when you're a singer-songwriter, he translated the experience into this rawly honest collection on which the songs are everything. Recorded at home with basically just him, a guitar and harmonica and, then mixed by Neilson Hubbard, they are, as you might imagine, nakedly personal.

"I lost a couple of high notes from the top of my voice/From moaning too hard…I drink myself to sleep at night can't tell myself I don't" he sings in the opening lines of 'Ghost, a song that tellingly opens with the sound of a storm and sets a theme of introspection and self-doubt that runs throughout, declaring himself "the punchline of my own joke". 'Bailing' introduces harmonica on a song that initially talks about how his childhood home flooded that extends to a metaphor about bailing on life and leaving home to try and make it in Nashville, haunted by a restlessness captured in the lines "Some people have a place where they belong/I guess I'm not cut from that cloth".

Co-penned with Slaid Cleaves, 'Mama's Boy' is a speak-sing number about notions of masculinity, a father seeing boxing (a Picott family tradition) as a way to toughen up his son, in a song that references Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, when the kid just wants "his books and paint and his record player". The toll life can exact finds tragic expression on 'Mark', the true story of an old teenage friend, born the year Kennedy was shot who committed suicide when he was 17, recalling how 'Sgt Pepper' played at the funeral.

Picott's home state of Maine is also the setting of the Springsteen-like' 'Spartan Hotel', a song written over twenty years ago about a real dive in a dying New Hamsphire mill town for the losers, the boozer and the shoe shopworkers, where bands who weren't good enough for proper clubs played, recalling its permanently sour manager Tom and Juanita, the local tough cock teaser in her tank top and skirt who's just "a pain in the ass".

Drawing from his reading of hard-boiled Southern fiction, 'Too Much Rain' is another portrait of a dysfunctional home and the world's casual cruelty, sketching domestic abuse and how "A heart can't grow from a whiskey kiss/And a hardness comes from a life like this".

Co-written with Ben de la Cour, 'A Beautiful Life' strips away the romantic notion of the dignity of the working man as he sings "These radio country songs got it all wrong/Bragging all about the simple life/It's a 40 hour week until you lose your heart/And you want to cut out the darkness with a knife".

A specific reference to his health scare comes with '38 Special & A Hermes Purse', a song on which he says he set out to lay himself bare and where he felt he was at that moment in time "a train wreck turning Beaujolais to piss" who's "spent half my life fighting old ghosts/The other half trying to keep the gun out of mouth".

Another co-write, this time a brushing up of an unfinished lyric by Cottonwood author Stacy Dean, '80 John Wallace' is named for a prison wing in Texas and sung from the perspective of a man whose life has laden him with so many chains around his heart he might as well be one of its inmates.

Returning to campfire harmonica, 'A Guilty Man' is another song of introspection by a man finding himself alone at 54, lying in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors with no one sitting by his side, a song that asks its listeners to pose the same questions and seek for absolution.

It's back to church on the gravelly semi-spoken 'Sunday Best', looking back on childhood and family dinners, when "Everyone stopped cursing/For a couple of hours", from an adult's perspective but filtered through a child's fond memories of his relatives even if "Most of them were drunks I guess/Drinking in their Sunday best".

It ends with 'Folds of Your Dress', another song about dicing with mortality ("Pills make me rattle and cocaine's worse/Whiskey is a slower ride to the hearse", that has him regretting the lack of connection in the heartbreaking line "Did I set you free just like I did the rest/Wish I was in the fold of your dress."

An album to have close by you when sleep won't come in the long night of the soul, clinging to it as it helps you through to the light of a possible better tomorrow.

Mike Davies