Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
What do you get if you mix influences such as Husker Du, Cowboy Junkies, Willie Nelson, Black Flag, Yo La Tengo, Velvet Underground, Waylon Jennings, The Minutemen, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Uncle Tupelo? Apparently, you get Black Oak Hymnal because that is who they list as their influences. If you listen closely, you can sure hear a lot of clues. Black Oak Hymnal is a death folk-country-psychedelic trio from San Diego, CA. Dan (aka Grafton Silos) and Mick (aka Butch Johandson) met in 2008 and decided to commit full-time as duo. They took on the name Black Oak Hymnal and have since recruited Russ as a full-time third member on mandolin.
The music on Blood Moon is haunting and eerily beautiful. The noise meanders into beautiful sound waves that travel through space. There are definitely country elements mixed with some noisy rock and some nice psychedelic sounds. Those psychedelic, rolling soundwaves are the clincher for me. That is what compels me to listen. Dan’s vocals are a bit monotone but it works so well with the ambient music in the background. A cross between a horror movie and a 50s western.
The songs are unusual but strangely compelling. Maybe it is the uniqueness and originality that continually pull me in. These are not your standard country songs either as most clock in at 5 minutes. Some of them sound like Grateful Dead space. Maybe some hallucinogenics helped shape their music. That could be a real possibility because it certainly sounds other worldly at times.
Meet Me In Shelltown (Track 5) is an instrumental tune that is a mix between a spaghetti western and a few tabs of LSD. It has that desert like arid feel to it and that psychedelic guitar that gets into the nooks and crannies of your brain. But it doesn’t just lie there, it moves around doing cartwheels and yoga positions in your mind. It is almost a trip on its own without any accoutrements. Reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Homer eats the hot pepper and wanders through the desert and talks to the coyote who speaks English. Not only that. the coyote’s voice is Johnny Cash.
I like instrumentals that are original and unique. There is another one on Blood Moon that is really catchy, 100 Words Or Less (Track 10). The irony is palpable as the song contains way less than 100 words, try zero. These guys are witty even when the song contains no vocals. That is tough to do but Black Oak Hymnal succeeds where others have failed. This song also reminds me of western scenes, like riding a horse through the desert. Then seeing those heat waves rising up through the scorched landscape and resembling water.
If you want to let your mind play tricks on you and get into a semi dream state, you will love Blood Moon.