Shimmering acoustics with a dark heart

Almost in the middle of “Stripped Down, Gussied Up” comes the gorgeous, summery strum of “Daffodils”. “Daffodil,” sings Pierce Edens, “is a pretty little thing, it comes up so early, every spring.”. But then comes the kicker. “…. but it’s getting killed by the frost.”

And nowhere better can you see the juxtaposition in the music of Edens’ than right there. Because on “Stripped Down, Gussied Up” – his fifth independent release – he’s eschewed the blistering Appalachian rock n roll of his previous releases for something a touch more intimate and the characters he creates are not always what they seem.

Opening song “Sirens” sees him in almost Augustine’s type areas, but before the end he’s opining that “I used to go to work every day, just praying for something more, now I’m just that old cliché, worn and careful what you’re wishing for.”

These are songs from the darker end of what (mostly) acoustic music can offer. The blues infused “Here” adds a mournful side, “The Devil There Too” plunges into some despair, while the folk stylings of “The Bells Of Marshall” are a real, genuine highlight, as the character in the lyrics is daydreaming his way through the day.

This sense of longing, of not belonging, is one that binds many of these tracks. “The Bonfire” is a little different as it possesses an urgency, but still the small-town frustrations are right there on the surface. Likewise, “Body” is a real rabble rouser, but even here “there’s a body in the river and the rain’s coming down….”.

On the gentler ones, like “Further Down” there is a fragile, cracked quality to Edens’ vocals, but equally, he’s so versatile that he manages to sound strident elsewhere on “I Can’t Sleep”, which has echoes of Springsteen’s “Open All Night” and comes complete with some fine guitar from Kevin Reese – who is making his recording debut with Edens here.

That one segues neatly into Tom Waits’” “Mr Seigal” and Edens manages to take the unique stylings of Waits and turn them into his own.

It is the only cover here – the other ten are entirely self-penned – and  the album ends with “It’s Alright, It’s All Wrong”. A kind of Pierce Edens take on the aforementioned Waits, if you will, the vocals take on a harsh, growling quality, and are at odds with the finger picking strum and the tone of the lyrics.

Which almost brings us back to where we came in. The juxtaposition. The putting together of two things that should not work is at the very heart of “Stripped Down, Gussied Up” and on it, Peirce Edens has pulled the trick off superbly to create something that is rooted in the past, but very much looking to the future.

Rating 8/10