Just in time for the end of the gloomy season, the folks at Devil’s Ruin Records are preparing to release their continuation of the Dark Roots Music compilation series, with not one but three more volumes: II. Rodentagogue, III. Rodenticide, and IV. Rodentum. Though the new additions aren’t quite as extensive as their predecessor, Rodentia: The Best of Dark Roots Music, the two-disc release that spawned the series, the content is equally impressive. Then again, while each of the new releases are home to between fourteen and eighteen tracks, Rodentia featured thirty-four songs by thirty-four of today’s finest roots bands and singer/songwriters, such as Strawfoot, O’Death, Black River Brethren, Reverend Glasseye, The Dad Horse Experience, Uncle Sinner, and Those Poor Bastards. The three new volumes, however, feature a number of different artists, some on Devil’s Ruin Records, some not.
On Rodentagogue, Volume II, you will hear songs from the likes of JB Nelson, Munly & The Lupercalians, and The Sad Bastard Book Club. On Volume II, Rodenticide, you will hear songs by Black Jake & The Carnies, The Resurrectionists, Sean K. Preston, The .357 String Band, and Rainer Hass. And on Rodentum, Volume IV, you will hear songs by Dimestore Troubadours, Murder by Death, Pete Yorko, Muzza Monroe & The Lushous Strings, and JB Nelson & The Chainsaws. These are some of the most well compiled volumes of roots music I have ever encountered, with some of the best gothic americana, gypsy, insugent country, bluegrass, hillbilly troubadour, blues trash, and neo-folk bands and singer/songwriters to be found in modern underground music.
Each of the new volumes features magnificent artwork, all of it unquestionably befitting of a dark roots series, with angels and demons, holy experiences and biblical depictions, as well as rustic imagery and an assortment of other visual oddities. Huseyin Ozkan, a rather young artist from Turkey, provided the artwork for Rodenticide. Gromyko Semper, a Filipino surrealist, did the Rodentagogue art. And Eddie Obituary contributed all of the other pieces to the volumes.
Rodentia (ro′den·cha) —
The mammalian order consisting of the rodents, often known as the gnawing mammals. This is the most diverse group of mammals in the world, consisting of over 2,000 species, more than 40% of the known species of mammals on Earth today.
Truth be told, I can only speculate on why this series of compilations stems from the term rodentia. What I have come up with is that many people no doubt associate rodents with subterranean species of vermin, such as the huge rats that scurry about the New York City subway tunnels, the sightless moles they sometimes find dead in the corners of their basements, the small mice that nest in their walls, and so forth. Just like the bands and singer/songwriters on these dark roots compilations, rodents tend to exist underground as well. Hence the association is made. Perhaps I am way off base. Then again, maybe not. Either way, the titles of these albums have caused this question to incessantly nudge at the gray matter of my mind, and thus I was compelled to speculate. Of course I could have probably asked Devil’s Ruin Records about it. But sometimes our own interpretations serve us well, are more fun, or at least keep us thinking.
When I wrote the review on the first volume, Rodentia, I was writing with the whole thing still fresh in my head…or should I say in my ears. Upon my first listen to it, the only way I could describe it was by saying, “…and I realized I was holding my breath between songs, like a child going past a graveyard in the backseat of his parents’ car.” It was true, too. I did feel that way. And I feel that way still.
Also in my first article on this subject, I couldn’t help but go over the description of the compilation’s content in terms of mental images, feelings, and strange goings-on, like the never-ending struggle between good and evil, between god and the devil. It reminded me of bedside prayers, nightmares that feel too real, revival tent gospel shows, snake-handling preachers, and congregations speaking in tongues and flopping about on the ground. Also…carnies, campfires, taxidermy, shotguns, antique machinery, bibles with well-worn covers, tales of madness, and ghost stories. And…the skeletal remains of abandoned vehicles rusting in the tangled weeds and tall grass of a ramshackle property, snowflakes falling from an ash-gray sky, carrion birds circling an unseen carcass somewhere in the wilds, churches with apocalyptic signs, salvation and damnation, watching phantom clouds of breath rise from one’s mouth in the chilly dusk, funerals, freshly dug graves, old six-shooter pistols, dirt roads, and old cigar boxes filled with black and white photographs. All of those things, and more.
Some of the songs on these volumes have slight attachments to the modern world, each with its own place in the world of cities. But most of the songs come from the half forgotten places, the places without streetlamps burning through the night, places that still have dirt roads and a fair degree of mystery and strangeness. These are rural songs…songs from the backwoods, the swamps, the mountains, the country, the hills and hollows…from the desert wastelands of the dusty West, the sweaty humidity of the insect-bitten South, the frozen grounds of the rocky North, and the seemingly never-ending pine barrens of the gloomy East. Indeed, these are the secret places through which one can hear the fiddles, mandolins, and harmonicas, the acoustic guitars, banjos, and dobros, the jugs, jaw harps, and washboards.
If rock’n’roll is the Devil’s music, I can’t even imagine the deity that presides over dark roots music.
So get ready, because something wicked this way comes…again!
(This review originally appeared in The Philadelphia Examiner and No Depression Magazine back in March of 2010)