With A History of Violence songwriter Harlan T. Bobo steps out of the forgotten shadows and broken alleyways and into the sinister gel lights of a lounge peopled by addicts and guarded by a coded knock you’re definitely not privy to. The album elevates Bobo’s songwriting (though it wasn’t exactly slouching) to some of his finest and most pointed performances yet. He’s embracing several decades of Nick Cave, stretching from The Birthday Party scratch to the towering demon work of Cave’s latter-day output. He pours through the soul of Lou Reed’s most weathered screeds, picking at the bones Lou’s most hangdog heaviness. Bobo crawls from the cigarette-hung punk mangle of “Spiders,” – a decidedly driven and ferocious cut that’s reaching for its place among the Verlaine-veined fallout of ’78 – to his spot next to the pedestal of the haunted troubadour class. He’s still lighting sonic candles to raise the ghost of the dearly departed Leonard Cohen, and in some cases the voodoo appears to be taking hold.
Harlan wields a whiskey boiled croon better than most, slinking his way through tales of women, ghosts and grizzled souls with the lived-in spirit of a man possibly possessed and most certainly haunted. He writes characters that crawl the stage in search of solace, though they always seem to die a dime short of redemption. When the tempos boil over his songs live without care or conscience, but the consequences always come back to haunt his gallows work on the slower numbers. He’s long been scratching out ring worn gutwrenchers hung heavy with the musk of roadside motel stretches, but with A History of Violence he’s brought this vision to life like never before. The album is visceral and engrossing, a sinister triumph that’s sopped up the gutter and hung it in a crooked frame.
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