Rod Picott is one of our too-little-known songwriting treasures. Like Hemingway, he peers into the jangly tentativeness of the relationships between men and women. Like Harry Crews, he captures the spectral gothic shadows that haunt rural settings. Like Townes Van Zandt, Picott tells riveting tales about memorable characters — the moonshiner, Sonny Liston, his daddy — that plumb the misery and the fleeting moments of hope that mark the human condition.
On Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows, waves of shimmering steel and tenor guitar strums create the aching loneliness of the opening track “Lover,” a swirling, atmospheric ballad of sad-hearted yearning in which the singer pleads for a lover to come find him because he’s “so tired of flying alone.” The swampy funk of “Revenuer” rumbles with urgency, evoking the dogged flight of a moonshiner outwitting the government men and preserving the ’shine that “church girls want and the preacher too.”
The sizzling “Dirty T-Shirt” unfurls in an airy, seductive languor and serves as a riposte to “Lover”; in the final line of “Lover” the singer just wants to reap what he’s sown, and in “Dirty T-Shirt” his desire takes charge: “A runaway train a horse on the run / A hurricane you can’t stop it with a gun / There are no words on my tongue / Just this fine desire.”
The spare “Frankie Lee” recounts the tale of a poor man now on death row for killing a dishonest banker and awaiting his final moments ready to pay the debt he’s incurred for his deed, while the jaunty, rollicking “Sonny Liston” tells the sad tale of a man whose “momma didn’t know when his birthday was” and who made a name with his fists but who died as unknown as he was when he was born. The John Prine-like “Washington County,” made more melancholy and damning by lonesome harmonica strains, sings of a coastline that’s now been turned into “BnBs.” Fingerpicking circles around acoustic guitar strums on the Paul Simon-like “Mark of Your Father,” an ode to the ways that one’s lineage seals one’s identity and how one embraces such a lineage.
Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows showcases a singer-songwriter working at the top of his game. Rod Picott deserves to be more widely known that he is, and this album should go a long way toward getting his ingenious songs heard by a broader audience.
Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows is out June 10 on Welding Rod Records.