Review: Mother Merey and the Black Dirt – Down to the River

a4140886824_10Memorialized in song by the likes of Lead Belly, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and the Drive-By Truckers, is there a more popular American folk icon than John Henry?

Rather than recast the myth as a modern parable, Mother Merey and the Black Dirt use this symbol to denote the power and determination of their brand of Delta blues, plowing through the eleven shit-stomping tracks on their debut album, Down to the River.

The Austin, Texas-based trio features Merey Kimbrough (washboard/vocals), Eric Witthans (dobro, percussion, vocals) and Kevin Allen (harmonica, vocals). Using traditional blues instrumentation Mother Merey and the Black Dirt build up and deconstruct the most American form of music.

Merey Kimbrough sings a mix of laments and spirituals that comprise Down to the River with the voice of an angel, albeit one with a penchant for trouble, cognizant her actions the preceding Saturday night were anything but pious. This is evident on the album’s centerpiece, “Mother Merey’s Hymnal”:

Oh, Lord
Won’t you please take some time
I need to call you
‘Cause I fear that
This is getting me nowhere

From the cleansing water of the album’s title track to the questioning of salvation on “Take It In,” the songs on Down to the River are raw and dirty, yet almost always with a spiritual undertone.

I’m not sure, no
I’m not sure
That there’s a God out there
To make this feel like home

Every song on Down to the River is a stomp. From the sexual innuendo of “Front Porch” to the pounding hammers, grunts and breathless harmonica on “John Henry,” Mother Merey and the Black Dirt find themselves between sin and salvation, yet manage to tiptoe around this paradoxical dilemma.

There ain’t no chains around my soul
‘Cause the Devil ain’t troubling me
These boots are worth their weight in gold
And they fit nobody but me

Cocksure in their handling of traditional blues, Mother Merey and the Black Dirt have created an album that is both fresh and timeless. Never forced, the authenticity of Down to the River should not be questioned.

Stream and purchase Down to the River and watch the video for the title track below.

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