It doesn’t get much more “stripped down” than Kill County, from the sparse arrangements to the creaking chairs and boots scraping on wooden floors in the quiet song intros. The Year of Getting By, the band’s second release, was recorded in two weeks at a friend’s house in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is a minimalist work of folk genius that only improves with each listen.
The intimate selections of guitar and banjo-based folk tunes are rife with images of loss, struggle and isolation. Most are down-tempo with simple stringwork as expansive and spacious as the midwestern landscape itself. “Time Passing” leads off with images of highways, boxcars and trainyards and lines like “December is on us like cold steel handcuffs/the rent check wont clear/she wont come home, and you lying alone.” The guitar, banjo, pedal steel, dobro and old-time piano set the tone from the get-go.
Lead singer and banjo player, simply known as Ringo, has a rough-hewn and travel-weary voice that’s warm and anachronistically unique, while Josh James (guitar, harmonica) lends soaring tenor harmonies, taking up lead vocals on the jubilant and hopeful “Left My Home” with a narrator dreaming of finding a good country girl and buying a farm of his own.
“Straight Six Ford” ups the tempo, adding Terry McGinn’s fiddle and Brad Kindler’s chugging drums. The desolate themes of tenacity and hanging on long enough to escape on threadbare machinery with trembling engines is expanded with “This old town is rusting, and through the dust/I can hear that old straight six Ford, she’s barely running./To get her off of those concrete blocks/Is gonna take some trying.”
“The Train, The Drink and The Dawn” contains a surprising and heartbreaking revelation, tragic in its inevitability.
With repeated listening, the lyrics come to the forefront and are wonderfully descriptive. “Your daddy was the king of chopsaws and hammers/You’re just the prince of things that don’t matter./December is on us like neckties and collars.” Such lines are rampant throughout and lend an added dimension of poetic lyricism to the album.
Stick around well after the final number, “The Sequence,” for a hidden track, the unnamed and rousing sing-along with hoots and hollars that perfectly underscores the folk spirit of Kill County: “We got joy, we got love, we got the old man up above/This family’s got something good!” they shout. Yes indeed.
Kill County – The Year of Getting By
Josh James-guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, vocals
Ringo- banjo, guitar, vocals
Joe Salvti-pedel steel and dobro
Josh Hoyer- piano