Every time I write a review, I hold my breath and hope I captured something. Gasping after this one…
Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil
Welding Rod Records RodPicott.com
Opening and closing with the sounds of thunder and rain—water plays a central role in a few places—Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil—presents with particular foreboding elements, made greater by realization of how close Rod Picott came to dying during a recent health scare. “I’m a ghost,” he sings, in a voice that has indeed lost a couple notes from the top. But, like many exceptional talents, vocal sand makes his words more substantial. It’s a raw, heavy album, poetic, dramatic, and affecting.
Rod Picott has never been a star, hasn’t had his songs recorded by unit-movers and chart-shakers. His best-known composition, written with childhood friend Slaid Cleaves, is likely “Broke Down,” a tremendous song but—like many—unknown to the masses; he also co-wrote the ‘heavy metal, country-folk’™ classic “Gettin’ To Me,” with Fred Eaglesmith and Ray Wylie Hubbard recorded a song Picott co-wrote with Gurf Morlix. Still, and with apologies to David Olney, Picott is the only one doing exactly what he does, and there are just enough folks who appreciate it to keep the coyotes from his door.
Stripped of all but the essentials—guitar and harmonica—Picott has never sounded more vital, perhaps a lazy cliché given his impressive catalogue, but strong belief from these ears. Every word is truth, each song hewn and pointed.
Like the best- Tom Russell, Ian Tyson, Guy Clark, Rosanne Cash- Rod Picott creates rich, vibrant moments and places from seemingly mundane details. There is the dying milltown of “Spartan Hotel,” a place where everyone is “dreaming and scheming and fighting tonight,” and no one sleeps easy. Picott reflects the trauma inflicted on a peer community from suicide (“Mark,”) and is aware enough to know that there are no answers to the questions that remain unspoken. “The Folds of Your Dress” become a spiritual refuge, a safe place when all other comforts have been sufficiently exiled.
Most of the album was written by Picott alone, but there are also co-writes.
Mid-set and co-written with Ben de la Cour, “A Beautiful Light” captures the album’s thesis in a five-minute treatise of hard-earned truths. While lyrical moonlight shines on broken glass, the reality is that life is marked by “busted knuckles” earned from manual labour and the unrealized dreams of successive generations.
Co-writing with Stacy Dean Campbell, this theme of reflection, of grasping the limits from a place of (perhaps welcomed) maturity, is further explored in the Springsteen-worthy “80 John Wallace” and a man incarcerated by the chains of his own decisions.
Revisiting the boxing ring (“Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues” from his debut remains one of Picott’s most pointed compositions) in “Mama’s Boy,” Picott and Cleaves explore the concept of masculinity, perhaps what it meant to our fathers and how that was too often different from the perspective of sons who didn’t quite attain an expected pinnacle.
Listening to Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil, one is welcomed into an Americana confessional. The emotional demons being exorcized in “Sunday Best” (“crossed our hearts, prayed the whole thing didn’t come apart,”) “A Guilty Man” (I’m a fool I’m a wreck, I’ve been cruel when love was the only test,”) and “A 38 Special and a Hermes Purse” (“I’ve spent half my life fighting old ghosts”) are tangibly constructed before us. Every syllable, every note is textured with authenticity.
In a just world, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil is a career album—Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Infamous Angel, Poor Man’s Dream, Nebraska, El Corazón, and the like—the one that becomes an eternal calling card. Rod Picott offers his heart; the least we can do is give it a listen.