Debt & Departure
Bastard Souls is considered a side project for The Grifters top-dog, David Shouse, and his
illustrious comrades in arms, Red Red Meat's Matt Fields, former Jeff Buckley guitarist
Michael Tighe, and ex-Dambuilders Kevin March and Joan Wasser. But this is no mere side
project. Shouse and company have produced a landmark of edgy, intrigue-filled rockers and
tense love-lost ballads that are both soulful and affecting.
Backed by a solid group of players and friends, Shouse has lost the
David Bowie cower that's plagued him on earlier Grifters albums. And unlike that project's
glammy efforts to weird-out listeners with off-kilter noises that carefully camouflage
nuggets of melody, Those Bastard Souls merely lay down the songs -- and their hearts -- to
bleed out right at your feet.
The quieter, more sinister numbers showcase Shouse's even, emotive
vocals, playing off a deep-timbered piano and Wasser's unbelievable violin. Those strings
fit in just as nicely on the rockers, like the fist-pumping "Has Anybody Seen
Her" and the chugging "Train from Terminal Boredom."
The most Grifters-sounding tune of the lot, the bass-driven
"Curious State," is also among the heaviest tracks on the disc. But it cowers
next to the sober, waltz-timed "Wake of the Flood" which quietly opens with
organ, bell-like piano, and acoustic guitar, before Shouse mournfully sings, "When
the cops showed up late to make sure you're OK/And I slipped out the back." It's
so gritty you'll see him squatted down, wringing his hands. "Up to You" feels
like a '30s smoky-lounge ballad, until the bass, the kick-drum and Wasser's knife-edged
violin crash the chorus, slicing you open like a ripe corpse.
The CD closes with an acoustic, On Golden Pond-style version of "Spaced
Out," from The Grifters' last album. The understated arrangement adds a whole new
level of depth to a song that always begged a lighter touch, or so it seems now.
Shouse's other band is on hiatus while "the side project" goes on the road.
Maybe he should just call his Grifters buddies and tell them he won't be home for a long,
Published in The Reader Oct. 14, 1999.
Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.