Uncle Sinner: Death Country from Winnipeg
A few weeks ago I was having a discussion with one of my blogging colleagues on how annoying it is when iTunes or whatever CD ripping software you use auto tags the genre of the music that you are trying to import. In my buddy’s case, iTunes had tagged Elliott Brood as “death country.” He asked me, “what the hell is ‘death country?'” Although Elliott Brood describes themselves as “death country,” to my ears they are more alt country with a little bit of punk rock thrown in. If you want to listen to real death country music, you must check out Uncle Sinner.
I first heard of Uncle Sinner via the Nine Bullets blog and their review of the Rodentia: The Best of Dark Roots Music. I was immediately hooked by the dark, evil feel of Uncle Sinner’s track “When Jesus Comes.” This song combines a gothic sounding banjo with the spoken word samples of a fire and brimstone-style preacher. The samples are from a record found in a thrift store in Steinbach, a small Mennonite town southeast of Uncle Sinner’s hometown of ‘Sinnerpeg,’ Manitoba.
While “When Jesus Comes” is a very cool song, it isn’t exactly representative of the tracks on Uncle Sinner’s debut album, Ballads and Metal Breakdowns. Most of the album is bleak and sorrowful bluegrass, touching on themes of grief, heartache, death, and, of course, sin. Upon first listen, the style sounded very similar to Ralph Stanley, especially his song “O Death” which I recently wrote about. Only Uncle Sinner builds on this traditional Appalachian-style blues with clever stories of gambling, bootlegging, and cheating, often with religious overtones.
On lead vocals, banjo, and guitar is Uncle Sinner himself, with his partner/producer Fuller Vengeance on bass, mandolin, guitar, and backing vocals. The fourteen track album contains original songs and excellent arrangements of traditional folk songs. Two that stand out to me are “Jack of Diamonds” (gambling is a sin, tsk, tsk) and “Old Rub Alcohol Blues” (woe to troubles, whiskey, and women).
Uncle Sinner’s music is brooding and foreboding, and makes one wonder why something like this hasn’t come out of stoic Winnipeg sooner. You can almost feel the winter chill of the cold, cold prairie air while listening to this album, and if you didn’t know better you would think that Uncle Sinner and Satan are settling in together to watch hell freeze over.
Buy (CD Baby): Ballads and Mental Breakdowns (2008)