“Ordinary Folks” – The Pawn Shop Saints

4 stars (out of 5)

0

I always thought that hanging on in quiet desperation was just the English way. Apparently not; Jeb Barry of the Pawn Shop Saints has created a collection of nine songs, one a Jason Isbell co-write, that tell the stories and introduce us to the characters of forgotten America. The places that have lost their industries, jobs and hope, but not their self-respect. “Ordinary Folks” is also the sound of someone examining their own prejudices in an attempt to understand the lives of the people that he wouldn’t normally meet day-to-day; it’s a timely reminder that progress doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone. We understand that fossil fuels damage the environment, but that’s no consolation to the mining communities that have been wiped out. It’s not a cheerful album, but it’s uplifting; we see individuals and communities that refuse to be broken whatever the world throws at them.

Musically, the stylings are string band-orientated with some nice twang guitar as a bit of occasional seasoning (although there are nods in the direction of gospel and skiffle as well) and fairly minimal and muted percussion throughout. There’s enough going on to embellish the songs, but not so much that the power of the lyrics is diluted. And they are certainly powerful lyrics.

The songs are roughly split between social comment and personal reminiscence and there are a few themes that run through the album. The personal stories include the autobiographical high school outsider tale of “Lynyrd Skynyrd” and the tragedy of a life that is only made bearable by cigarette breaks and a beer or two told in “Pack a Day”. Taking a wider perspective, while the album’s first three songs, “You Don’t Know the Cumberland”, “Old Men, New Trucks” and “Body in the River” all deal with the loneliness, isolation and alienation of life in forgotten towns, passed through by the politicians, and against the backdrop of the constant threat of flooding.

“Ordinary Folks” is a grainy black and white photo of life in the towns after the vultures have picked the bones clean and moved on. And somehow people still hope.

The album is released on Dollyrocker Records (DR20201) on Friday December 11th.