The slow rhythm of drums, accompanied by a roughly-picked guitar herald an album that is unmistakably bluesy. Durham introducing himself with the line ‘One path leads to destruction’ confirms that suspicion. The second verse begins even more gloomily, announcing ‘I may be hanging from a tree come next morning’.
Track 3 comes armed with a harmonica, seeming to flirt with a brighter mood…But no. I really shouldn’t have expected anything but blues from a song entitled ‘Living This Hard’.
Images such as ‘Snapping peas in the backyard’, for me, are alien enough to match my idea of the Deep South and the blues. Even for someone from the West Midlands, whose closest encounter with the American South is two weeks in Disney World, Durham’s sound conjures up scenes of a laidback, meandering life along the Mississippi.
He is, in fact, Texas-born and is much younger than his stories of woe and gravelly tones imply.
The thing about Lincoln Durham though, is that his tales of sorrow and hardship don’t depress you – they draw you in. “Clementine”, which is catchy, well-constructed and very reminiscent of LaMontagne, is the perfect example. This is a tale of gut-wrenching heartbreak and yet it remains philosophical.
Maybe philosophical is the most fitting way to describe this album. “Love Letters” even pairs a rockier, raw sound to its almost self-indulgent wallowing. It was about this time (track 8 ) that I noticed something: Durham seems almost obsessed with the image of mud or dirt. Seriously, count the mentions – there are at least 15. Weird!
Perhaps this is evidence of an absence of lyrical ambition in “The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones”. And perhaps Durham needs to be a bit more inventive to avoid blending into the rather oversubscribed folk/blues crowd. He certainly lacks the unique style of someone like Jack White, who has bent blues-rock to his own devices.
This is a very listenable album, but it could be said that Durham’s bourbon-fuelled voice, rich in timbre and emotion, carries it.