It’s the darkest hour of night, twilight a memory and dawn sound asleep. The cemetery ceremony is complete and the witch doctor, clad in his undertaker’s tailcoat, wing-tipped shoes, and tattered top hat, heads to the caretaker’s shed at the edge of the property. Bypassing the front entrance, the shadow man pulls open the doors to the storm cellar. Down the dark stone stairs to a smoky lounge, he slips into his seat at the bar and is poured his usual double bourbon. With a relaxing creak of his bar stool, he leans back and turns his attention towards the stage. It’s underworld, it’s other world. It’s a spiritual speakeasy of sorts – and the house band is Dead Bed Bad.
Loves Burns the Man is bluegrass melancholy, swampy jazz, metropolitan blues. It’s gritty and sleek all at once. The sound is more than unique; it’s damn near incomparable. But that doesn’t stop this record from providing licks, hooks, lyrics, and vocals that belong on the airwaves for all – as well at home, with candles and headphones, for any witch doctor to have all to themselves.
With its constant lower semitones, the chill vibe of Love Burns the Man is not meant to pacify or assuage; indeed, it proves how very possible it is to experience the joy in disquiet, to revel in restlessness: “Good Things,” with its Ray Davies-esque lead; “Boxes,” providing poetry in lyrics and vocals reminiscent of The Zombies; the sheer scope of “Faces”; and of course, the first and mood-setting title track.
Its urban folk turns (the radio-ready “Long Day” and the just plain beautiful duet “Let You Go” featuring Sarah Ault) lighten up the disc, but only in the way a slightly more predictable path along the scale will allow a sense of security before you’re launched back into more of John Frederick’s precise madness. The Spoon-like track “Zero” showcases the sublimely intentional sound that permeates the whole record. It is apparent in the arrangement of each track and the album as whole, as every note, every chord, every strike are laid out with true purpose. There are no accidents here.
It’s the quirkier, but no less massive, tunes that are quintessential DBB that bring all the demons to the yard. “I’ll Be Your Ghost” is a favorite of our shadow man (oh, how he loves that organ!). “People,” sounding for all the world like a rock concert in the sideshow tent at the circus, brings him to his feet. And the entire patronage of this pub of perdition grooves together in unison by the bass-driven, percussion-laden, steel and electric guitar feast that is “Pedalars Jamboree.”
In taking Love Burns the Man for a spin or three, a listener on this plane discovers what our bokor already knows: This music belongs in – nay, it commands – its own dimension. Go there with John and Co. and don’t worry about finding your way back for a while.