Cast King: Saw Mill Man (Locust)

castkingAnother great rediscovery by the discerning Locust label. In the 1950s, hard-touring Cast King and the Country Drifters recorded eight songs for the Sun label, but never got any further and finally broke up. King left the road life, but kept writing and singing his songs for friends and neighbors around Sand Mountain, Alabama.

Fast forward to 1998, same locale, when a young guitarist named Matt Downer started recording the music made by his grandfather and a friend, then expanded his reach to other veteran Sand Mountain musicians and was told about Cast King, hearing King was a good and prolific songwriter. This disc is the result of Downer playing with King and taping the results (there’s a drummer on one of the twelve tracks). There’s no fat on these arrangements; the focus is firmly on King and his songs, which easily live up to their local reputation.

The title track is a superb delineation, in the tradition of Merle Travis’s immortal “16 Tons,” of the plight of a worker stuck in a job that will never let him get ahead and slowly sucks the life out of him. Similarly, King breaks no new ground on the other songs, each of which is of a familiar type, but all of which come to life through succinctly plainspoken details and the weathered wonder of his vocal tone. King was 77 years old when these recordings started. His voice is a little shaky, but in the same way Johnny Cash’s was shaky in his last couple of years – a perfectly good instrument that just gains more character from being well-worn, and fits the feel of the songs all the better for it. - Steve Holtje

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Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer. He has just finished recording his original soundtrack to Bystander, a documentary film by John Reilly.

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