Album Review: Charlie Peacock - No Man's Land
By: Matt Bjorke
In 2011 The Civil Wars released Barton Hollow, a chilly and sparse album that evoked a firm sense of the Appalachian foothills. The producer behind that album was Charlie Peacock, and this year he released an album of his own that sets itself equally in the dusty, mud streaked humidity of the Southeast. No Man’s Land, despite its title, stakes a claim to the land in the Eastern bayous that lead from Texas to New Orleans. It is a pure Americana album that fuses Country, Rock, Gospel, Soul and Blues as easily as the dance halls it conjures. It is an album that teeters carefully between the pain of hard times and a deep seeded love for the land and its culture. No Man’s Land a complex and compelling album that will appeal to fans of early Springsteen without ever emulating him.
“I’m forgetting my own history, playing loose with the mysteries,” he explains in the opening lines of “Kite in a Tree.” The album is loosely based on Peacock’s own mixed race heritage, specifically the life and times of his father and grandfather, who spent their lives between cultures labeled as mulatto. The album lays claim to the people who laid claim to the margins and made their home in the soil when they weren’t allowed anything else. “I’m going down to Mystic, Louisiana, looking for the meaning in the dirt,” he offers on “Mystic,” “my shame, my comfort, my hurt, its all I’ve got that I never had.” The song is both sadder and more power for the fact that his farm is “Not what you’d call a prize, more a line on the ledger of the tax man, somewhere you’d toil for a spell till the good Lord called your name.” He keeps the songs rooted on this farm, or at least among people who lived near one exactly like it He shares childhood memories in “Ghost of the Kitty Cat,” a sweet story about a child and the man protecting him from an unfortunate pump house discovery. “The Voice of the Lord” chronicles the daily conversations a dirt poor farmer has with him maker as he tries to determine whether he made the right choice or should move on. “Thinkin’ Till the Crack of Dawn” finds him drifting across the low plains, striking up the odd conversation with strangers and apologizing to wronged lovers. He sardonically misses a woman described as “Miss little black-checkered-pants was clutching a new Coach bag” in “Beauty Left the Room.” The album sets its stage well, and people’s it with a cast of characters as compelling and fascinating as and Hollywood movie.
Charlie Peacock has long been a practitioner of songwriting that tells a full and panoramic story, rather than the currently popular confessional and anthem styles. While two songs manage to come in under three and a half minutes, most run closer to five and two stretch out over six minutes. This is not an album fitted for radio consumption, though it does allow room for the song sampling made popular by sites like iTunes. Each song serves as an example of the album and invites the listener to come back for more. No Man’s Land is a dank and delicious collection of stories wrapped in an impeccable set of melodies and instrumental work. But it is always the stories that stand out. On “Deep Inside a Word” Peacock sings “He’s a Texas troubadour, a California Sage...he’s a poet in search of visceral delight tot wow the huddle masses and finally get it right.” No Man’s Land is an album that gets it right on every level.