Album Review

Tom House - That Dark Calling

Tom House - That Dark Calling

Writers fairly consistently and fairly accurately yoke Tom House to tradition -- the mineshaft caterwaul of Dock Boggs, for example. But House also seems to occupy his own musical world, a surreal, American primitive landscape full of fleabag beauty, poetic mind shapes, and intriguing, oddball non-verbalisms (liquid purrs, primal scat warbles and amiably bubbly vibrato). If it's possible, however, the iconoclastic Nashville singer-songwriter has taken a few tentative steps in the direction of accessibility with That Dark Calling. "It ain't no stinkin' wonder that this world is going under/How much more can it take?/The camel's back got to break," sings House in fairly direct social critique on "All Fall Down". The self-referential "Hey Tom" is a stridently percussive acoustic rave-up that almost approaches the Who's "Magic Bus", with House eventually breaking out into trademark tomcat yowls. "Jimmy Teal", a waltzy murder ballad, is a relatively straight-ahead concession to both accessibility and tradition, while "Bake My Beans" is tradition through a prism -- all ungainly, blunt repetition, borderline nonsensicality and appealing old-timey groove ("Mama gonna bake my beans in the mornin' y'all, ya'll, y'all"). This doesn't necessarily mean House's vision is any less sharply affecting and uncanny as ever (particularly with female vocal foil Tomi Lunsford trailing haunting wisps at his side). House is still very much his own man, but there's a levity to his approach here that suggests the singer is perhaps more concerned with healing than drumming up haints and spooks. And where last year's affecting Long Time Home From Here liked to raise the hair on the back of your neck, the almost ironically titled That Dark Calling has milder aspirations: communal, toe-tapping, back-porch salve in a world that just might need it.