Wovenhand’s “The Laughing Stalk”

“Sunday school didn’t do it for you? Give Laughing stalk a spin.” -HE

Holly Etchison

out of 10

The Laughing Stalk
Sounds Familyre

As the opening track “Long horn” of Wovenhand’s seventh album rolls into earshot, it is plausible that you have begun a strange journey such as Quentin Tarentino might direct and Dostoevsky might pen: A gospel tale set in the wild West, riddled with Native American imagery, hard rock goodness, and images otherworldly in their plainness. A faithful following dwells in expectation for any new sounds from the beloved band, and even they are unsure what to expect. Several listens usually don’t do- years may supply revelation via poetic wordplay and sounds that pound into the soul as a warrior on a drumhead.

Laughing Stalk, the groups latest release, is certainly no exception. The title itself, a play on the familiar phrase for a whipping post, leaves room for interpretation. David Edwards’s simultaneously severe and soothing voice growls, exhorts, and escorts the listener through a narrow path full of beauty, mystery and peril. Parabolic in their style, the straightforward lyrics are layered with meaning. The songs never bore: each has its own unpredictable incarnation.

The title track gets to business as a somewhat exultant hymn of praise to the God of the Old and New Testament, named here Yahweh, Jehovah, Immanuel, the Here I Am. Things quickly transition to “In the temple”, an exultant glory ride in sound, wordily picturesque.

Guitar immediately garners attention in “King O King” with its almost heavy metal undertones. Edwards’ Sioux battle cry of “Hoka!” precedes image laden stanzas sung almost militantly:

No bird of prey knows this way
no falcon’s eye has seen it
no lion prowls there to devour
proud beasts set not foot upon it
King over the flood

A selling point of the entire album, “Maize” thrills with a repetitive piano refrain that goes straight for the heart and guitar nothing short of genius. Recalling Samson the mighty warrior of the book of Judges, seen here as a type of Christ in his acts of power, the musical and lyrical action builds to a frenzied crescendo:

no shadow of turning
a rumor is enough
he findeth a fresh jaw-bone
of an ass, putteth forth his hand
and taketh it,
and smiteth – a thousand men
He taketh a fresh jawbone
O the height and depth
the width and breath

“Coup stick” fascinates as a list of biblical names, prophets and leaders, and their translations. A coup stick, for anyone not in the know, is a stick with which North American Indian warriors sought to touch their enemies in battle as a sign of courage. It serves here as an encouraging definition of God’s character as displayed thru biblical figures, types and shadows. The singer seems urgent in his delivery, and the drum beat is equally relentless on the enigmatic “As Wool” :

There surely is…for silver a source
a place for the all a gold that they refine
iron is taken from the dust
and from the firm stone brass
an end hath he set to darkness
and to all perfection he does search
search a stone of darkness
a stone of death-shade

“Glistening Black” is a triumphant exit, singer and players pounding it out, the notes drift into a night sky and the words stir the heart speaking of “freedom heaven’s hand high / one for the many.”

Sunday school didn’t do it for you? Give Laughing stalk a spin. David Edwards, Ordy Garrison, Charles French, Greg Garcia Jr. and Jeffery Linsenmeier have studied and shown themselves approved with tangible artistry. Wovenhand is a phenomenon not to be missed; their latest album most definitely stands tall, a noble contender in the sea of time and sound where we live. What is to be found and seen is up to the listener, a most free handed offering from a stellar outfit of musicians.