Have Gun, Will Travel – “Fiction, Fact, or Folktale?”

[Have Gun, Will Travel’s] “Silver and the Age of Opulence” is one of the best songs I have heard in this genre (and truthfully, of any genre this year). – Cameron Barham

Cameron Barham

out of 10

Have Gun Will Travel
Fiction, Fact, or Folktale?
September 10th, 2013
This is American Music

Have Gun, Will Travel’s fourth album, Fiction, Fact, or Folktale?, is the tale of 2 halves for me as reviewer. To be forthright, I listen to a lot of music within the context of this loosely bounded genre (Americana-folk-country-rock) which means that I can be guilty of needing to be wowed and not appreciating works that are solid but not great to my ear. That confession being said, I recognize that HGWT is very talented and has made a really good record, however, I see the first half of it as being located in the middle of the pack of the better bands within the aforementioned genre and the latter half as truly setting this band apart from even the best bands in the same context.

Fiction, Fact, or Folktale? opens with the raucous jaunt “Standing at the End of the World” in which Matt Burke declares tongue in cheek (hopefully), “I’ve got eyes, but I can’t see, the forest for the trees, and I won’t believe, until I see it on TV, I’ve got ears, but they don’t hear, words don’t come in clear, so I’ll sit back and just watch it all disappear.” The next 5 songs continue tales of weal and woe with “Trouble” evidencing the influence of Tom Wait’s Mule Variations and the marching “Another Fine Mess” which has the ethos and feel of the bastard child of the Melvins and Johnny Cash. It is this group of songs that HGWT does really well, but they don’t particularly stand out from the pack of other capable and accomplished artists. This is less criticism and more observation as one who listens to a lot of this type of music.

The second half of the record in my opinion separates HGWT from the rest of the pack. It is far more subdued than the first half which perfectly compliments Burke’s vocal textures and song writing gift. “Silver and the Age of Opulence” is one of the best songs I have heard in this genre (and truthfully, of any genre this year). Even the title of the song stands out from the others. It is a perfectly crafted song at all levels.  Burke wearily observes, “Along the way, the story’s in the tellin’, the hero and the villain, can often look the same, along the way, the devil’s in the details, fiction, fact, or folk tale, the simple truth remains, we’ll never be the same again.” “Finer Things” is a beautiful ballad in the key of country and “Fairweather” is a rambling folk tale that manages to rise far above the standard fare. The album comes to a superb close with “Take Me Home, Alice”, a whiskey-soaked lament over Hammond B3 organ, delicately plucked banjo, and background jingle bells in which Burke aches, Salvation Army bells ringin’ outside, and I’m trying to crawl in this bottle and hide, a barstool is no place to spend Christmas Eve, I can’t find the courage to get up and leave, so take me home Alice, and put me to bed, this bottom shelf whiskey’s gone straight to my head, stay with me Alice, sing me to sleep, I’m only as good as the company I keep.”  The closing half of Fiction, Fact, or Folktale? clearly shows that HGWT are even better than the genre company they keep.

HGWT is currently touring and should not be missed live if you get the chance. In the meantime, check out this video of “Standing at the End of the World” which captures well their gift.

– Cameron Barham – October 1st, 2013

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