16 Horsepower: Folklore (Jetset)

16 Horsepower come to us as elders in this church of the soul. We come away refreshed in that wisdom. In this great land of ours, we tend to accept rock bands as guitar, guitar, bass, and drums. We see our lyrical imagery as relationships, good times, bad times, and sex. 16 Horsepower is none of the above, but far beyond. They reminded me of a conversation we had with a relative about whether Playback St. Louis featured religious music. Yes, we affirmed, since we had written about a singing Rabbi-turned-born-again-Christian. And now we have 16 Horsepower.

16 Horsepower is steeped in religion. David Eugene Edwards, founder and chief songsmith, grew up moving around with his grandfather, a traveling minister. Much like Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, Edwards’ interests sprung from these travels. Formed in 1992, the Denver-based band found its musical roots in Appalachian hillbilly music, Cajun, and a strong vein of gospel—the kind performed by the Carters. Framing all of this is the mind of a man who broods on good and evil, heaven and hell, and (hopefully) redemption.

Folklore, the band’s fourth U.S. CD, is a fearless album that does not question whether an audience will accept a disc with overtly religious content. Instead, it jumps directly into the fire (so to speak) and brings the listener into the fully formed world that Edwards offers us. His message seems to be that, in a world where we oftentimes avoid religion, he would prefer to view the world through its scope. He is an intelligent man, a great lyricist and musician, and the songs on Folklore flow vividly.

Edwards has a voice that will draw you in. It is truly beautiful and he uses it over a variety of instruments, including banjos and fiddles. One of the standouts on the album is “Alone and Forsaken,” written half a century ago by Hank Williams. The original is always a hard act to follow: Williams had his desperation and pain written into many of his songs: he lived those songs, and he died at 29. 16HP nails it, though. Edwards understands the passion and the pain that put Hank in his grave so long ago—better than Williams himself, perhaps, because Edwards has avoided the edge over which Williams fell. On this album, he and the rest of 16 Horsepower come to us as elders in this church of the soul. We come away refreshed in that wisdom.

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