THE WEEPING WILLOWS
Southern Gothic (The Weeping Willows)
Given Tasmania is more your full-on heart of darkness setting – peace Taswegians, I mean that in the best way – and Sydney is more like American Psycho (the city that gave us our own Phil Collins, Thirsty Merc, after all), you can’t really argue with Melbourne being the best home for an Australian take on southern gothic.
It’s got the grandeur and the gloom, it’s got the colour scheme and pretensions, and it’s got a fondness for excess presented in genteel ways. “Which suit, the dark grey or the pinstripe blue, will I wear to score my dime bag today dear?”
So Melbourne duo, The Weeping Willows are only being a little bold in resetting a bunch of folk/country Gothic songs, plus a couple of their own, in the southern capital, in arrangements that lean on rather than fully succumb to space and simplicity. And in the main, this audacity pays off.
Andrew Wrigglesworth and Laura Coates make their first bold move opening the seven track EP with an original instrumental, the title track, which finds fiddle and guitar essential in conversation, with banjo contributing extra thoughts. It’s not particularly dark, more a scene setting bit of bluegrass.
Hangman (The Gallows Tree) sees the pair (and the band of David Piltch on double bass and Luke Moller on fiddle/mandolin) joined by guitarist and vocalist Nick Charles for a gentle ramble through a low afternoon light. The subject is death, but the mood is more reflective than grim. That’s also the underlying tone of Long Black Veil, one of those classics of love and death and regrets and secrets kept, that gives country its Gothic corner.
Interestingly though, with Coates’ lightly operatic around the homespun narration-from-the-grave of Wrigglesworth, there is more drama but it does not sink into the sadness, much in the way that Ain’t No Ash Will Burn is far too attractive a listen - acoustic guitar, each voice feeling like the complement of the other - to hold you fast in the darkness.
If the darker blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s One Kind Favour adds a little heaviness it is still briskly dealt with, while the terrific other Weeping Willows’ original, Black Crow, has a narrative energy to it that gives it momentum as much as the guitar does. Yes, the tale is omen-rich and features a dangling figure on the gallows, but you might even dance. Or at least tap that foot vigorously.
By now, it’s probably clear that the Gothic here is more in intent than in realisation. The subject matter is not diminished, nor belittled, but the idea of an overhang of more complex, darker emotions is never entirely achieved. You could say it’s more Canberra than Melbourne in the dark and dangerous realms.
The problem with seeing that as a negative though is that it allows the EP title to determine how much pleasure you get from listening to Coates and Wrigglesworth play in and around each other. Forget the terminology and just listen to the country nights offered, and the modest collection begins to feel like home, wherever that may be.