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Published: 2005/12/12
by Pat Buzby

Saw Mill Man – Cast King

Locust Music 74

I am a city type. Traffic, computers and news updates dominate most of my days, with frequent notes about what restaurant to consider next and what event happened an hour ago across the world. Now and then, though, I encounter folks who have a keen awareness of their backyards (enviable considering that, like most folks I know, I don’t have a backyard) but whose world doesn’t extend far beyond that, who might go a month without going anywhere more exciting than the post office. Usually, though, I get the humbling realization that these folks have done some things more daunting than I could imagine, such as fighting in wars or being around for a musical breakthrough.

Cast King is one of these characters. An active musician in the '50s, he caught Sam Phillips’s attention but never made the big time and disappeared into Alabama decades ago. Matt Downer tracked him down, though, and this CD is the result. The stark black-and-white art and the 79-year old King’s uncomfortable cover pose make Saw Mill Man seem more off-putting than it turns out to be, but it succeeds in conveying the message that this is not a disc to be taken lightly.

As many reviewers will no doubt note, King’s low voice and fatalistic views are reminiscent of Johnny Cash. With a few exceptions (such as “Long Time Now,” where King’s chorus acknowledges that “I still cry”), these songs don’t have the immediacy of an “I Walk The Line.” However, King knows how to tell a story, to say as much with what he omits as what he includes, and to show how much pain and drama is in the most ordinary life. The men in King’s world work hard and know much more about alcohol than about successful romances. Even “Peggy,” which starts out sounding like a male writer’s old-timey celebration of his lady, quickly veers into talk of jealousy.

For every Cash, there’s hundreds of guys hidden in the mountains who will take their songs to the grave. Thanks to his curiosity and a strategic pursuit, Downer has snagged Cast King on his way down the same path, and reminded us that a lot of activity takes place away from the world’s physical and cyber-highways.

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