Falls of Rough – Cast Iron Filter
RCAM Records 003
A bit of warning for those new to the Irongrass sounds of North Carolina’s Cold Iron Filter: whatever you do, don’t look at the band photo on the back of the CD booklet prior to listening to all of Falls Of Rough.
I appreciate the individuality of the four members outfits, but I feel a migraine starting to form at the sight of one looking as if he’s an extra in The Karate Kid or he’s simply an enthusiastic Loverboy fan.
In a more real sense the (lighthearted?) pic takes away from the seriousness and stellar playing that makes up the album’s 14 tracks — 11 vocal, three instrumental.
While not on the storyline level of The Who’s Tommy, nor even the Drive-By Truckers’ Southern Rock Opera, there’s a concept going on here that travels back more than six decades to the last legs of the Great Depression and the early days of World War II. In an ingenious move, it relates to what’s happening in the here and now. Lead singer/acoustic guitarist Dustin Edge’s lyrics are refined for individual characters but they’re not affixed to them, ala the tale running through Neil Young’s recent Greendale.
Essentially, these tunes can all stand alone as much as they fit together to complete a thematic whole. What that entails are sketches of characters in the fictional town of Falls of Rough in western Kentucky. They live a complicated existence, of adversity taking its toll, dreams crushed and hope desperately linked to finding solace at some point in the future with the Lord.
Cast Iron Filter initially evoke Drive-By Truckers’ Southern punk ‘n’ roll spirit, particularly on the opening number. "Model-T Ford" sweeps by with its Springsteen-esque view – one of many – of one’s life being changed by the thrust of a car engine and the freedom it offers the narrator to escape from a stationary life. The figurative roar of the engine is enhanced by an eye-popping mandolin solo from Mike Orlando. "Where the River Fades" and "Men Who Die Young" revel in a similar energy and restless spirit.
With so much thought given to each number, it’s not surprising to find the rest of the album varying the tone and pace for added resonance — a hootenanny atmosphere runs through "Hold Your Heads Up High," while "Murder Makes a Crimson Sky" contains a subtle lounge rhythm and "Redemption" shuffles along with an inside-out funk groove.
The placement of the instrumentals act as aural closing and opening credits for the ongoing chapters of those living in the Falls Of Rough. Initially, the stellar playing masks the drama of the songs, but further listens highlight Edge’s words. The inspired give-and-take of its storylines and instrumentation makes Falls Of Rough a wondrous find for those who seek bluegrass with a little 21st century bite and others who mourn the on-ice status of Leftover Salmon.