1984 – Slash Records
Hallowed Ground, the second album from folk-rock trio Violent Femmes is a real treat. It glides seamlessly from hillbilly to punk inspired rock to gospel and to everywhere in between all the time maintaining its sparse, southern-gothic feel. It entices you in through its silence then grabs you and drags you through its weird noise then leaves you at the end all aglow from the happy hymn of It’s Gonna Rain, but with all the darkness of Country Death Song unforgotten.
For the most part it’s a country/folk record and its does this really well, but there is some brilliant contrast in the tracks Never Tell and Black Girls which drag in the band’s love for punk and also their truly talented musicianship shown in their virtuosity amidst much confusion and noise. This is not to lessen the folk aspects of the album though – the hoedown sound of Jesus Walking On The Water could get even the most avid hater of country music singing along and perhaps even playing air-fiddle. Sweet Misery Blues is wonderfully nostalgic in its caterwauling earthiness, and the title track is cleverly arranged and deliciously oppressive in its pleading.
One criticism that can be levelled at this record is the overt religiousness in many of the songs. It’s true that Gordon Gano, the lead songwriter, is a devout Christian, but it’s not too hard to take these tracks with a grain of salt and listen to them sarcastically, or just enjoy the music without the indignity that comes with a conversion attempt. I see no reason why the brilliance of gospel music has to be kept away from non-believers, or why non-believers cannot enjoy it without an affinity with the lyrical content.
Another slight downside is that Gano’s nasally whine is pretty annoying. I’m going to stick by that; his voice is really irritating. However, I think he manages to work this into the music, and all my grimaces at his whinging tenor seemed to have dissipated by about the third track. In fact, as hard as it might be to believe, he becomes almost endearing towards the end of the record.
To sum up, Hallowed Ground really is an excellent album which is smartly put together and slickly produced. It’s both fun and intelligent with a good scope of musical variation, and at points it’s almost impossible not to clap your hands and sing along. There are no forgettable tracks on it and it makes good music for pretty much any occasion (romance probably excluded).
I wonder why it should be that a band that produced such a great record as Hallowed Ground should be mainly remembered through eighties rock compilations for Blister In The Sun. It’s a bit sad really.
One of the many stand out tracks from the Violent Femmes’ second album Hallowed Ground