King Dude has quite a colourful musical history; starting out in metal band before embarking on a solo career that would romanticise everything to do with the devil and all his demons. If we look back over TJ Cowgill’s earlier works we are treated to dark and gloomy neofolk with lo-fi production quality that actually seems to enhance the music, rather than take away from it. The accessibility of 2014 release ‘Fear’ is what really ingratiated him into the hearts of the masses; the gothic style of his neofolk was seemingly left by the wayside as he picked up a guitar to sing us upbeat post-punk numbers about how fear is all you know and inform us that demons are watching over us. While this new approach to his music may have gained lots of fans, it alienated just as many – the murky and brooding tones of songs such as ‘Barbara Anne’ seemed lost forever. What made it all the more confusing was that on his most recent tour, hordes of ‘Johnny Come Lately’ fans thronged the stage, hoping to hear sing along numbers such as ‘Lay Down in Bedlam’ and were left confused when he opted for setlists entirely of old material (circa ‘Jesus in the Courtyard’). Latest release ‘Songs of Flesh and Blood: In The Key of Light’ heals the rift between fans old and new; there’s enough post-punk to please those who enjoy the Nick Cave and Death in June aspects of the music, while still retaining much of Rome-esque gothic folk sounds of old. While there are many who may only be aware of King Dude due to his collaborations with Chelsea Wolfe, this should be the release that lights the way to realisation that TJ Cowgill is every bit as deserving of praise and admiration as a singer/songwriter on his own as he is when collaborating.
What makes this album so remarkable is the diversity throughout; King Dude’s ability to switch between the swinging, dance-along piano of ‘Rosemary’ to the moody acoustic numbers such as ‘Silver Crucifix’ at the drop of a hat is impressive and it will make turning this album off of repeat a difficult task indeed. Having previewed his newer material on his most recent tour, it’s pleasing to hear that tracks such as ‘A Little Bit of Baby Gonna Make Me Wanna Live Again’ are every bit as emotive on record as they are live.
The pace on this record slowly meanders between the upbeat and the sorrowful, rolling lazily between guitar driven ‘Black Butterfly’ and the bluesy feel of ‘Deal With the Devil’. This miserable, acoustic driven track is heavily reminiscent of new age romanticism, but that unmistakable American whiskey-tinged atmosphere never dissipates and is a constant reminder of the grittiness currently working its way into your ears.
“Sold his soul for rock ‘n’ roll” is the very essence of lame dad rock; however, King Dude pulls off this gimmick with both style and distinction. He takes all of Tom Waits’ gravelly sadness and pours it out through the medium of songs about the Devil, loose women and times of hardship – what’s more he makes the idea of having a rubbish time of it seem fucking cool. Pact with Satan or not, you’d suffer some of what he’s singing about in a heartbeat in exchange for just an ounce of this guy’s talent.
(9/10 Angela Davey)