Review: Slackeye Slim- “El Santo Grial: La Pistola Piadosa”
Imagine for a moment that instead of becoming a visionary film director, Sergio Leone had chosen to be a record producer. Imagine that all of the vast, meticulously detailed landscapes painted within the frames of his films were constrained to your mind’s eye as you heard only the sounds and the vision of a great artist. Imagine that the music he produced told an epic, violent, but ultimately human saga of a mythic West that never really existed anywhere, not even in Hollywood. A West stuck somewhere between hard, brutal realism and blatant fantasy, between the costly mistakes of our past and our apocalyptic future. And while you’re at it, imagine that Ennio Morricone wanted to be Link Wray when he grew up.
That’s what Wisconsin artist Slackeye Slim’s sophomore album El Santo Grial: La Pistola Piadosa sounds like. A concept album about a gun, this was recorded at junkyards and museums throughout the state of Montana and it represents one of the most visionary, unique, and just plain badass albums to be released in years and it hardly comes as a surprise that Farmageddon Records, this generation’s premier country-punk-roots-rock label, is behind it.
Opening with the spoken word “No One Knows My Name,” band leader Joe Frankland sets the tone as one of freedom from the rules and constraints of a dying, corrupt society, but slavery to the dark side of your own mind and to the tortured thoughts of loneliness. This is a theme throughout the rest of the album- and in Leone’s films for that matter. In a sense, this album is reminiscent of The Wall thematically and while the storyteller here is winning all of his outward battles, he is losing the battle within himself.
On the next track, the brief “Come One! Come All!” Slackeye Slim invites us to “listen to a tale of a gun that came from Heaven.” Following this, on “Introducing Drake Savage,” we get a full-fledged lo-fi psychobilly number with plenty of distortion, Duane Eddy-like twang, and semi-supernatural lyrics about “The Chosen One.” (I’m not sure if it means anything, but Drake Savage was also the name of an insane Vietnam veteran portrayed by Gary Busey in the 1996 Chris Farley comedy Black Sheep.)
For the remainder of the album, Slackeye Slim delivers a series of rockers and ballads rooted in guys like Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and The Cramps alongside melancholy spoken word vignettes and although there are definite highlights (such as “Vengeance Gonna Be My Name”), this is music that is best appreciated in the context of the record.
Like the best concept albums, El Santo Grial: La Pistola Piadosa offers no definite answers, just more hints laid on top of deepening caverns of doom, destruction, and death. This record has something important to say about our music, our society, our lives, and our myths. In the end, I think that 20 or 30 years from now critics will look back and see this album, like Honky Tonk Heroes and Fervor before it, as one of roots music’s defining moments; when the metal and punk kids who grew up despising country music until they heard Johnny or Hank or Waylon perfected the recipe that had been brewing for a decade and finally brought it all together in a seamless blend of traditions old and new, original innovations, and, most importantly, undeniable talent. This is an album as fierce as it is literate, as punk as it is country, and as good as anything I’ve heard in years.