Nashville’s All Them Witches seem to be at a creative peak at the moment; this being their fourth album in five years (not including the two live albums they have treated us to in the same time period) but then, as the title of this album suggests, these are turbulent times and the majority of us are just staring at our phones allowing this madness to take place.
For those new to All Them Witches, this is a band with something to say, an incredible talent and a cohesiveness created by a lot of time jamming and playing together. This is psych rock and American blues all mixed into one. I have nothing but admiration for bands like this, bands that are able to create an atmosphere by the use of space, stripping it down bare and taking a much slower approach to life.
When I was in a band I just wanted to make as much noise as possible but All Them Witches are almost the opposite of this, but this is an addictive, thoughtful and a magical record and I can’t recommend All Them Witches and their latest offering Sleeping Through the War enough. There is the inevitable The Black Keys comparison but add in Truckfighters, My Morning Jacket, perhaps a touch of Rival Sons, even the Doors and you would not be far wrong. When I am listening to them I can’t help but think of all those great 70’s bands you always see on the Old Grey Whistle Test, blues bands, rock bands, bands that seem to have been lost in time but were clearly amazingly talented and must have been incredible to see live. Well now you can, go and catch All Them Witches on one of their numerous tours (they toured the UK three times last year) and relive that late-night psych rock feeling.
First of all, if you are a fan, the new material is not a million miles away from what they have done before; but then what they are producing is great so I can’t imagine this being much of a concern. If, like me, you are relatively new to the band you probably won’t be familiar enough to know the difference, but what does strike me is that this album has even more psych rock than on some other stuff I have heard and amongst its strengths are that repetitive groove beat and the way the band seem to lose themselves in the music.
The album opens gently with “Bulls” but don’t let this meandering fool you, this is just the guys warming up. Gentle guitars, and a floating melody ease you softly into their world. The first thing that will strike you is the sound of the vocals. It’s a clear and addictive voice that when the band cranks up can carry the heavier movements as well. What “Bulls” does well is introduce you to their landscape, their ambient moments and great use of sounds and dual melodies to paint a picture. What is unique about All Them Witches is how they then build up and loop on these soundscapes turning it into a very special psych rock moment. All of it accompanied by a heavy bass and space rock vibe.
“Don’t Bring Me Coffee” follows and is a highlight of the album. From the opening refrains of the vocals “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me how to run my town,” you are drawn into their world. What impresses me with All Them Witches is that it is instant captivation, despite not actually playing much at this point. It is the way they build upon these riffs and, in this case, vocal melody that makes this song and the songs on this album work. The guitars blast in, the drums become heavy but the vocal pattern remains. The buildup of the music only enhances this so by the time the lead solo comes in you can’t help but be impressed. I love this song.
“Bruce Lee” takes us on a slightly different path, much rockier and more upbeat this is the nearest that All Them Witches get to a pop song and it is bewitching, the use of melodies in the background combined with the verses and lead guitar give it a lot of punch.
What really surprised me about Sleeping Through the War is that on the slower southern blues Dr John vibe tracks I was still engaged. On paper this type of meandering in a song would leave me cold but All Them Witches are natural story tellers, whether that be vocally, with their landscape building or that fantastic and evocative bass. This is clearly a band with a cohesiveness that you do not get that often, organically they seem to move and breathe together creating moments out of nothing and injecting life and interest into something that I would have avoided in the past.
Final song “Guess I’ll Go and Live on the Internet” leaves us with some sober thoughts: ‘If you are asking me I have one thing to say, If I can’t live here I’ll guess I’ll go and live on the internet’. Through the album the theme of burying our heads in the sand is prevalent so it is pretty apt that this swamp style ending with a clear message sits here. A great ending to a magnificent album.
Sleeping Through The War may have a point to make but it is also an incredible piece of work and I am completely engrossed in this record. The atmospheres they are able to create, the use of soundscapes, space and pace is second to none but the real secret lies in All Them Witches’ ability to draw you in, to make you part of that story even in their simplest of moments.
Listen to the beginning of “Am I Going Up”. In some sense, not a lot is happening but even in this relative simplicity there is actually layer upon layer of melody and every one of those melodies could carry the song itself, its gives the impression of journey and time and space despite actually being quite a slow-paced song. It is all these elements and talents coming together to paint the picture that works. Imagine My Morning Jacket in their more reflective moments. It is these moments that have made me fall in love with the album.
Sleeping Through the War is out 24th February 2017