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Album review: The Blessed Broke - Ladders Out of Purgatory

Album review: The Blessed Broke - Ladders Out of Purgatory

Kansas City’s Blessed Broke has a beautifully crafted American Gothic sound. Ladders Out of Purgatory is the band’s second album. This is music at once dark and lovely. Singer and songwriter Brian Frame is something of a sad bastard—not of the sparkling pop Elliott Smith variety—but more from the Woven Hand, or Bill Callahan school of glum. But his songs, while all characterized by a mid-tempo andante, are nonetheless appealing, and the band’s playing is at once sanguine and austere.
Frame’s lyrics are not as detailed as Townes Van Zandt’s (a clear inspiration), nor is his singing as enunciated, but in mood and tone he’s clearly taken succor from Townes. And like a Jay Farrar without the faux Walker Evans sepia tone sound, his world-weary vocals suit the resignation of his lyrics. “The Stain” opens Purgatory with these representative lines: “We were all waiting in line to get a little blood on our hands.” And in that line the listener remains.
Five of Purgatory’s nine songs feature the full band, while four are Frame’s solo vehicles. But rather than sounding like a half-finished record, Purgatory reminds of Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon recordings; the full band tracks simply sound like expansions of Frame’s solo visions, expanding the songs’ musicality while sustaining the contained, melancholy moods, which rarely lift. From the “just a small shot to kill the pain” of “Black Spring,” to the slightly more eros-driven likes of “Moriah’s Eyes,” Frame’s songs are melancholy devils. After all, as the album’s closer expresses, Frames has a “Helpless Heart.”
Frame and guitarist Andrew Luker anchor the band, having worked together for several years. Luker’s dobro work is the band’s chief ornamentation; he gives Frame’s songs just the right high, lonesome embellishment. Betse Ellis joined on bass just before these sessions. She’s known from bands like The Wilders for her soaring violin work. Her bass playing fits perfectly with drummer Matt Richey; together they lock in like Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey, respectively, on Dylan’s fabled John Wesley Harding.
The band’s vitality would be enhanced by a little more variety in tempo. Sometimes the melancholy thud of The Blessed Broke’s music can be relentless. But credit them for sustaining tension and mood. With quality material and beautiful playing, Brian Frame and The Blessed Broke engage us fully, however somber the fare they serve on Ladders Out of Purgatory.
--Steve Wilson

Be sure to catch The Blessed Broke this Saturday at The Ship, 1217 Union Ave, in the West Bottoms. Facebook event page.



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