Texas has had a bad rap in recent times. As well as conjuring up images of ’80s soap Dallas, it’s widely responsible for the proliferation of Stetson hats, ‘good ole boy’ country music, and of course it’s where George W Bush began his rise to power when he was elected Governor of the state.
Put away such stereotypical thoughts though, for Deadman will not fit easily into them. Stephen Collins and his wife Sherilyn deal in a dreamy form of Americana, which recalls such classic exponents of the genre, such as The Band, Mazzy Star and American Music Club. Our Eternal Ghosts is their second album, and is a worthy follow up to 2001’s Paramour.
The duo claim a deep connection to U2‘s The Joshua Tree album, and many of the songs here recall Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ peerless production. For this, much credit should go to producer Mark Howard, who has worked with Lanois, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan and the aforementioned Irish megastars. Tracks such as The Monsters Of Goya and Love Will Guide You Home have Howard’s stamp all over them, and bear a marked resemblance to Robbie Robertson‘s self-titled solo effort.
The album as a whole is very accessible – opening track When The Music’s Not Forgotten is hauntingly beautiful, with a lyric written on the day that the late Johnny Cash died. It’s dedicated to Cash and a clutch of other legendary figures who are no longer with us and is a worthy tribute. The duo’s voices meld together perfectly, proving that comparisons to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris aren’t too far wide of the mark.
There’s also a pleasingly sinister edge to several tracks here, such as the edgy Werewolves and the grimy guitar lines of Sad Ole’ Geromino, which mixes nicely together with the song’s percussive backbone. All the instruments employed by Deadman are used very subtly, such as the touch of pedal steel guitar on The Monsters Of Goya – just enough to sound evocative, but avoiding overkill.
Although Sherilyn Collins tends to stick to providing wonderfully effective backing vocals for her husband, she does take the lead now and again, such as on the heartstring tugging Slow Dance, where she recalls singers such as Tanya Donelly as well as Harris and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Although Stephen Collins does a fine job here, it would be nice to hear more of his wife’s haunting voice.
Yet that seems a churlish criticism in the face of such gorgeous music. Some may complain that the tempo doesn’t vary much throughout the album – which is true, as Absalom! Absalom! is the only track that could be genuinely be described as mid-tempo – but this is an album for relaxing, wallowing, and enjoying. Just listen to the tribute to Ray Charles, Love Will Guide You Home, which employs gospel touches worthy of the great man himself, and you’ll agree that Deadman do down-tempo better than no other band around.
In fact by the time the closing Brother has lulled you into your own little world, you’ll have banished all thoughts of pick up trucks and fundamental Christianity. Deadman have produced a beguiling, beautiful sophomore record that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.