Sixteen Horsepower is one of those bands that require one of three responces.
A) The listener thinks they are trash and hates it.
B) The listener realizes there is talent and something special here, but doesn’t care for the music.
C) The listener sees the talent and specialness and falls in love with the band.
I’m afraid that, as the majority of music listeners mainly appriciate the pop end of the music spectrum, most people choose “A” if they should run across this band somewhere. This is not a band for the weak at heart.
Sixteen Horsepower has released four full length cds, one live cd, and one EP prior to this. The evolution of sound has been interesting to follow. In 1994 their first release, a self titled EP with 6 songs, had a gritty, almost punk-goth-country sound. Their 1995 and 1997 releases, Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes and Low Estate, followed a simular path. In 2000, Secret South had a more polished sound, while retaining that punk-goth-country feel. Then, 2001 found them releasing live recordings from 1998, a cd titled Hoarse. It is the low point of their releases as the recording quality isn’t that good. It features songs from the EP, Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes, and Low Estate, plus several covers, notably a Joy Division song. Finally, 2002 brought around the folky-gothy-country cd titled Folklore. This one had a “real” sound along with an even mix of origional songs and covers/traditional/folk songs. In addition, David Eugene Edwards, the main man behind 16 Horsepower, released a solo cd under the name “Woven Hand”, which featured a same playing style, only it is softer, without the edge and grit of past releases.
Here, in 2003, 16 Horsepower treats us with Olden. Take the album title as a description of what’s inside. This is a collection of three recordings from 1993 and 1994. Warning: Most of these songs have been released already on the self titled EP, Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes, Low Estate, or Hoarse. However these seem to be different recordings, so there are differences. Below is the track listing, including which cd previously featured each song.
From the Night Owl Session (1993):
1. American Wheeze (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes and Hoarse)
2. Coal Black Horses (On the self titled EP)
3. Scrawled in Sap (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
4. Prison Shoe Romp (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
5. I Seen What I Saw (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
6. Neck on the New Blade (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
From the Kerr Macy Session (1994):
8. South Pennsylvania Waltz (On the self titled EP and Hoarse)
10. American Wheeze (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes and Hoarse)
11. Shametown (On the self titled EP)
12. Train Serenade
13. Strong Man (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
Live 1994 at Mercury Cafe in Denver (1994, duh):
15. Slow Guilt Trot
16. Low Estate (On Low Estate and Hoarse)
17. Pure Clob Road (On Low Estate)
18. Heel on the Shovel (On Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes)
19. Sac of Religion (On Low Estate)
20. Dead Run (On Low Estate)
Like I said, it seems like most of the recordings differ from the other cd versions. Plus, the self titled EP is out of print now (though occationally pops up on Ebay). There are also two songs which I could not find listed on any of my cds. They may have been released as b-sides, or been featured on a European release, as they occationally differ from the American release. I actually would not be surprised if the European release of this cd differs from the American release I’m reviewing here.
Thankfully, the final six songs, the live ones, are recorded better than Hoarse was. Hoarse had a flat feel to it, these songs don’t. This alone is cause for fans to want this cd if different studio recordings don’t interest them.
Tracks seven and forteen are both “interview” tracks. The first one is with just David Eugene Edwards and is just a few statements from him lasting, maybe, 10 seconds or so. Track forteen is longer and features several different people.
All in all, this is a solid release by one of the most inventive bands around today. I would recomend it for people who want to get into 16 Horsepower’s early stuff, but aren’t sure which one to get. (Though I’d probably recomend Secret South or Folklore before this one.) Diehard fans will be pleased with a lot of the material on here. However, casual fans who already own Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes or Low Estate will probably want to steer clear and just get which ever one they don’t already own.
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