Tom House ~ That Dark Calling
Date: Sunday, May 02, 2004 @ 11:31:19 UTC

Artist: Tom House

CD: That Dark Calling

Home: Nashville, Tennessee

Style: Alt Country

Quote: "While he has some elements of a mix of John Prine and Bob Dylan in his voice, there's no mistaking that trademark warble, twang and yodeling/humming/vocalizing that's become his trademark."

By Les Reynolds

Tom House. That name strikes fear in the hearts of slow-moving singer-songwriters everywhere. This amazing and prolific southerner has released yet another CD and is rumored to have another one about to launch. Where's he GET all this stuff? And on top of that, it's all really good.

Tom, based in Nashville but originally from North Carolina, has gained wide critical acclaim -- mostly in the literary circles of the South. He's been sought after for poetry and even theater. His lyrical craftsmanship is still, however, top of the list of everything else he does.

That Dark Calling is another excellent collection of twelve Tom House originals. And to call his stuff original is an understatement. Even the CD's cover art is exceptional: it appears to be done with gold glitter/gel on jet black -- a line drawing caricature of Tom's face made to look a little bit like a theater mask. Then, just simple lettering for the artist's name and CD title. That's all. Tom likes simplicity.

Tom House isn't for everyone. If this happens to be your first time with one of his CDs, it might startle you just a bit. Let's explore.

Tom's vocals are unique. Nobody sounds like him. While he has some elements of a mix of John Prine and Bob Dylan in his voice, there's no mistaking that trademark warble, twang and yodeling/humming/vocalizing that's become his trademark. Yes, he's country, but he's nothing like the stuff you hear on commercial radio. Tom's more of a rough-edged throwback to the days before country music glittered so much.

His tiny crew of usual suspects appears once more in the form of support/backup vocalist Tomi Lunsford and percussionist (and sometimes fiddle player) Scott Chase. Deanie Richardson is listed as the main fiddle player while bassist Rob Stanley joins Scott to round out the rhythm section. Tommy Goldsmith shows some good mandolin chops and Bob Bowers joined the crew on flute, clarinet and sax. Yes, Tom got a little instrumentally adventurous this time. But Tom has never done anything in quite an ordinary fashion.

The fiddle playing is almost more bluesy than country and the percussion is reminiscent at times of the clip clop of horse hooves. There's a good mix of toe-tappers and more somber tunes, although there's plenty of minor chord acoustic guitar (compliments of Tom) and even more vocal doodling than usual. This is where he takes up space with stuff like "deedeedideedum" and wahwaaaaahwaawaaah" "Hep, hup" and various and sundry other sounds to complement his tunes. It's almost as if Tom is thinking out loud, trying to get to the beginning or the next place to start actually singing. While this might seem silly looking at it here in print, it works for Tom. In fact, it's icing on the cake. Tunes would be a little less tasty without it. But it is an acquired taste. Not everyone likes this stuff first time around.

Lyrically, well, you've just got to listen. No lyric sheet is provided and it should have been because sometimes Tom tends to mumble and slur or sing parts of phrases or words very quickly. Still, his writing is grade A.

Old Man
Old Man
Your wooden cane
And the spotlight on the stage
Is it true your fears
are from your youth?
Is your wisdom from your age?
... could you please enlighten me ...

Then, in another track:

Was a time
Now is gone
Nothin' mattered but the song
Soul and spirit
You could hear it
Celebrate and sing along
But now it's all about stars and hits n
Who sold most
'n who's got tits
None of it means two shakes o' shit
Let it all fall down ...

Tom shows he can be blunt as heck while at the same time writing simple sentiment in interesting and clever ways.

A few more tunes down the line comes the up-tempo (i.e., rapid-fire) toe-tapper "Bake My Beans." This is just pure fun and features great bluesy fiddle, percussion and acoustic guitar. The very last tune - "No Gala" -- is melodically reminiscent of one of his earlier tunes called "Canada."

Perhaps Tom House's tunes are often "no gala," but there is an element of fun and always, always lyrical craftsmanship and instrumentation that complements it perfectly. In short, listen to him long enough -- and that's not usually for very long -- and you'll discover a masterpiece.

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