Style: soulful folk and Americana; compare to Fleet Foxes, Bill Mallonee
Top tracks: "Chief of Police in Chicago," "Do You Hear Wedding Bells" "At the Public Dance"
On the cover of Texas troubadour Doug Burr's fourth album, a lovely bride peeks out from beneath her wedding veil. It's an image of classical beauty, but the eyes and the downturned mouth belie a moment of doubt and indecision. Look beneath the dazzling surface and you'll find the heart of darkness. It's the perfect visual metaphor for the uneasy meditations found within the eleven songs on O Ye Devastator, released several months ago but just recently gaining widespread buzz.
Burr is the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, and his previous albums have explored the intersection of faith and doubt, sometimes obliquely, as in his original songs, and sometimes more directly, as in the straightforward folk settings of the Psalms on his 2008 album The Shawl. Throughout his career he has been obsessed with mysteries human and divine; the savagery that lies just beneath the surface of civilized men and women, the conundrum of an all-loving God who is simultaneously ever-present and hidden.
O Ye Devastator doesn't stray far from those themes, but Burr brings both a more refined lyrical approach and a broader sonic palette to the mix, resulting in his finest album. "A black wave is comin'," he sings in the opening line of the opening track, a deceptively gentle folk song augmented by a string quartet, and that's as forthcoming as it gets. The rest is all soulful Americana, sweetly picked acoustic guitars and banjos, and grim and complex character study—the conflicted officer in "Chief of Police in Chicago," who finds his sympathies aligned with the criminals he prosecutes; the unnamed narrator of "At the Public Dance," who is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by the girl he pursues; the bride and groom of "Do You Hear Wedding Bells," who hear those bells as "reckless and drunk in the air," presaging the end of whirlwind romance and the beginning of something frighteningly uncertain.
God is present in these songs, but the outcome remains in doubt. These are sinners and saints fully capable of ignoring the narrow gate and choosing the broad path of destruction. The impact of the album lies in those puzzling riddles, and Doug Burr lets his chilling stories unravel without ever untying the knots.
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