Dave and Jerry - Almost Alive In Two Zero One FiveDavid E. Williams and Jerome Deppe are familiar names to these pages and Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five bring these two artists together in a band line-up recorded live in the studio. Mixing covers, with a selection of tracks culled from their own individual recordings Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five is a surprising album. For a start they play it relatively straight on a number of tracks, and take a fresh approach to their own recordings, swapping lead vocals on some, and the fuller 4-piece line-up including Tristan Deppe on bass and electric guitar and Justin Dorsey on percussion expands their sound palette somewhat.
The cover versions of Hank Williams and Leonard Cohen, like many tracks on this album, dwell on themes of loneliness and loss. Hank Williams' stark acoustic reading of 'Alone and Forsaken' is bolstered by the 4-piece into a lilting folk ballad complete with organ swirl and percussive taps, as Deppe's solemn tones deliver the lyrics of a love, which like the seasons has passed: "Her love like the leaves now has withered and gone". It's a wonderful introduction to Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five and a great take on a track fleshed out from its appearance on Deppe's most recent album.
'Famous Blue Raincoat' was taken from Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate and several tracks are lifted from Jerome Deppe's album which added an additional dose of fear extending the title to Songs of Love, Hate and Fear. You'll be surprised and quietly impressed by their performance of Cohen's 'Famous Blue Raincoat' which is played stridently, with Deppe's vocal delivery eking out a folk melody from Cohen's letter based lyrics over the lilting acoustic strum. Lyrical allusions to the Church of Scientology and - keeping in mind the oeuvre of Williams' - 'Lili Marlene' a famous German love song which gained recognition during World War II, sets this one as a highpoint of Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five.
Of course, Jerome Deppe has never received the plaudits which surrounded the sorely missed Cohen but Deppe's work, in its own way also deals with themes of loneliness, loss and despair. 'Dead Horses' a sorrowful lament for love lost, furthers the melancholy with Deppe's mournful tones over chiming acoustic guitar and piano notes, punctuated by stabbing piano chords. 'Pentecost' (also from Songs of Love, Hate and Fear) is just as sorrow filled. I can't tell however whether this acoustic ballad is about a lover who left, a miscarriage or a combination of both. Either way, religion doesn't come off as a promising option.
Dave and Jerry look further back into the American songbook for the 'Ballad of the Green Mountain Boys'. Over rolling drums, surges of electric guitar and Wurlitzer sounding organ chime Williams' cracked rasp delivers the lyrics of this traditional American revolutionary song. This track was also recorded by The Muskets, a supergroup of American neo-folkers featuring David E. Williams alongside Erin Powell (Awen), b9 InViD (Luftwaffe) and Thomas Nöla (of Thomas Nöla Et Son Orchestre and proprietor of Disques de Lapin). Dave and Jerry's version is much more joyous and rousing, awakening the spirit of those sleeping 19th century revolutionaries. The Muskets also featured a guest appearance from English folk singer Andrew King. Both Jerome Deppe and David E. Williams have forged a long-standing relationship with British musicians such as Andrew King and Lloyd James of abstract dark-folk and post-punk experimentalists Naevus. Lloyd James has sung with both artists, and on Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five they repay that friendship with their take on the Naevus track 'Kill Your Friends' - a song from Silent Life which David originally sung backing and played keyboards on and Jerome recently covered on Songs of Love, Hate and Fear. In terse and clipped tones over pensive strum and atmospheric keyboard swirl punctuated by percussive claps they deliver a delightful cover version of this track from the much underrated and often misunderstood Naevus.
I fear I might be presenting this too seriously as a singer-songwriter type thing but that's only because I haven't yet touched upon the David E. Williams tracks here. Williams is of course a favourite with compulsiononline; his work is darkly humorous and riddled with references to death, disease and sickness featuring all manner of sociopaths and dubious characters. But here, even amidst the lyrical couplets and epithets his work still cuts to the punch. Seriously his songs are imbued with a sadness that breaks my heart. Maybe it runs too close to the bone for me. 'Kill Yourself in Cape May' from his grief informed album Every Missing Duck Is A Duck Missed which meditated, in his own oddball way, on the death of his partner Jennifer Bates to leukaemia is rendered with driving sugary-pop guitars as Williams' drawls lines that he wrote bedside in a chemo ward. And that's before the singalong chorus kicks in: "You died way horribly. Yeah, you died way horribly... I watched but could do nothing as you died way horribly", bowing out on a reprise of the title over cheesy pier side keyboards. It is the best song about cancer ever. The solemn piano chords of 'A Patch of Fog in Purgatory' are just as sad, mixed with offbeat twisted couplets sung in Williams' idiosyncratic cracked tones before it veers off over in an outro with soaring discordant electric guitar howls. I await the day they redo this with a saxophone; it's really crying out for one.
Over loping bass, Jerome Deppe intones lyrics about "a dog-eyed gentleman on the way to the glue factory" before 'Onion Tree' is transformed into a Beatlesque form with megaphone performed vocals over piano chime and clipped buzz guitar. Veering from autoimmune disorders to automobiles via Germany's borders, it's a fun diversion but something of a real puzzler when considered within the context of Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five.
Jerome Deppe also takes over the lead vocal of the David E. Willliams' track 'Pumpernickel Crust'. Over booming bass and pumping fairground chime, he takes the role of a serial killing husband, whose murderous intents are curtailed by the love of a good woman. "You're the most perfect woman" he attests, before dropping in the deadpan clincher "this side of Myra Hindley" on this wonderful track culled from David E. William's I Have Forgotten How To Love You.
While Willliams supplies the sense of loss cloaked in the blackest of black humour, Deppe fixates on despondency and despair which seeps into tracks like 'Salvation'. "I inject the hate into salvation" he sings in this acoustic rendition of a track which originally featured on his Showtunes for the Damned album. Its delivery could easily be mistaken for a Naevus song - which is perhaps no wonder, as I just remembered Lloyd James did do some of the vocals on the original. Above soaring guitar and piano notes, the final lines "Once again, your horse comes in last" sets this murder ballad in context with Deppe's earlier track 'Dead Horses'.
Starker and bleaker than what comes before 'Vinegar Stew', the final track on Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five, is a newer number from David E. Williams. Carried by dramatic piano chords, it expands on a series of occupations from nurses, lawyers to murderers (that might be a vocation) and a weak bladder honing in on the wonderfully descriptive "big shit salad" which at the hands of Williams, who is still "Landlocked", and "lonelier than any man lost at sea" comes across as almost a chorus in this piano based track.
Although Deppe and Williams have featured on each others recordings, and most significantly on the David E Williams Ensemble Experience Project, a short-run single where Williams enlisted a full band it's fair to say Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five isn't like that at all. Instead Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five combines the talents of both with an extended 4-piece line-up which embarked on two live shows together before this live studio recording which showcases tracks from their back catalog, along with some cover versions. Don't be fooled by anyone who tells you this is neo-folk, dark-folk or whatever. Jerome Deppe and David E. Williams are both songwriters. They might not fit the traditional definition of songwriters but they are songwriters all the same - and we're better off for it. Limited to a mere 100 copies on vinyl, this may and if there was justice in the world should be sold out by the time you read this. If so, console yourself in the knowledge that this will still be available as a download of these two songwriters live in the studio with their extended band line-up. Great stuff, and a worthwhile introduction to their own solo releases. For more information go to David E. Williams Bandcamp