Tall Tales and Dirty Deeds: Blood Oaks Blazes a Dark, Gritty Trail on "Western Arcana"
As the year has begun to draw to a close, my good friends in the band Blood Oaks have polished off a new EP entitled Western Arcana. Given that the group is a self-proclaimed “cow punk” band, the title of the four track release is very appropriate. And the the title very accurately describes the EP’s contents, as the record has a gritty country-and-western-meets-punk vibe. It’s the kind of music that can start a mosh pit among square dancers.
The EP starts off with one of my favorite Blood Oaks songs, “Parole Blues”, which describes some of the hardships one may face in life...such as losing one’s better half after getting locked up due to mischief and misfortune. Although this is a classic theme in country music, it's relatable even today, as heartbreak is common to all of us, no matter how tall each of our proverbial sand castles may stand. The next track on the EP, "Contact", dives into the story of a man who encounters beings from another world. In true western fashion, the protagonist vigilantly waits, gun in hand, for the interstellar invaders to try his patience. Following “Contact” is a macabre ballad titled “Shake & Shiver”. This track explores the dark side of humanity with a focus on lust and desire, as it follows the journey of a man that kills his future wife’s current lover and frames his death as a suicide, all in time to catch the 12:15 train. Although the song sounds lovely and evokes a sense of ease - as if one were riding on the very train the protagonist boards, relaxing in a dimly lit passenger car - it's sinister all the same, offering a glimpse into just how far some will go to get what they want. To close out the EP, “Devil Bought” offers listeners an interesting take on the concept of death. In the track, the Devil beckons to a young traveler to come lay down and forever be at peace, which would bring the weary man rest, but at the cost of his life. This trade off is one that we all seem to make at some point or another, in varying degrees. Most of us beg for peace from the chaos and burdens of life. However, “Devil Bought” warns of the consequences of giving into such existential fatigue and letting the good things in life slip by just to avoid the perils that come with them, leaving listeners with the conclusion that any who seek rest at any cost will end up six feet under, with only the roses on their grave to their name.
Across all four songs on the EP, Blood Oaks not only manage to tell epic tall tales, lyrically, but conjure up vivid scenery with their instruments alone. The band transports you to the western plains, where debts are paid and justice served with blood, sweat, and courage. Their sound captures the raw spirit of the wild west but with a modern twist, as the band brings loud guitars and punk rock flair to the table with each and every show.
Overall, Blood Oaks really delves into the corners and crevices of humanity that are so often overlooked in our day-to-day lives, but which have a profound impact on us all. Western Arcana does Blood Oaks true justice as a testament to their hard work and determination.