In music, it’s often better to reveal your jagged edges than try and conceal them. Nowadays there is a tendency to try and make things sound too perfect. What is lost in the midst of it all is the human imprint on the music. Rufus Coates & The Blackened Trees understand this and over the course of their self-titled debut LP, they’re not afraid to delve into their inner psyche. When this is paired with a sound that drips of blues, folk and Americana, it makes for an album that is raw and truly authentic.
Vocalists Rufus Coates and Jess Smith work in tandem throughout the album as Smith’s sultry voice compliments Coates’ gravelly tone. Opener Here All Day showcases this dynamic and at times their sound is reminiscent of folk duo The Civil Wars. However, instead of the latter’s usual powerful delivery, Coates and Smith have a much more subtle approach. The duo don’t battle for airtime, they pick and choose their moments.
Thematically the band can paint quite a bleak picture at times, but there always is a silver lining which is reflected in both the music and lyrics. Menacing Form is the perfect example of this as they begin with a verse that saunters along before the song eventually comes to life during the chorus.
Safe For Now is a track which carries a sense of dread and paranoia as Coates says during the chorus “Where you’ll go, you are safe for now.” He depicts a rainy night in an old town as people scamper around looking for shelter, or as he puts it, “The pubs, the snubs, the wind, the rain”. It’s this ability to convey a mood or atmosphere which makes their songs much more than just mere stories.
Beyond these tales of woe and hardship are some tender moments which really shine through. In these moments there is a real honesty to the lyrics, which is in contrast to the cynicism in some of the earlier tracks. If the band’s world view was bleak early on, as the album progresses, there is more of an acceptance of the way things are.
Footpaths of Shame is a touching depiction of depression and addiction as Coates opens with the line “You say you’re feeling low, there’s only one response to expect. To run away and take what can you to be numb.” If the verse is a conversation between Coates and an addict, then the chorus is definitely an intervention. The band join in for the refrain as their words reverberate as if they’re in an echo chamber “Darkness forms, everybody knows it’s all down hill from here.” It’s a powerful moment as Rufus Coates & The Blackened Trees relay the stark beauty of confronting your demons.
The album as a whole, slowly but surely takes a hold on you, and once it does it’s message lingers on. It doesn’t present things as simply black or white, but merely shades of grey. Maybe not be the most polished record at times, but what matters is that it’s genuine. Too many artists are concerned with trying to sound a certain way, Rufus Coats & The Blackened Trees are just concerned with trying to sound real.