After more than 10 years as a band, it was safe to assume what was coming on S.S. Web‘s fifth album—a dark, fast-paced blend of folk and punk with country and bluegrass influences tied together with lead singer Henry Berger’s deep, resonant voice. But, despite Berger’s assurances on the ninth track of the Milwaukee band’s new album that the “song remains the same,” This Cold Soul is a bold step in a new direction for the three-piece roots group.
The album, recorded at Milwaukee’s Howl Street Recordings with Shane Hochstetler, trades S.S. Web’s fast-pickin’, foot-stompin’ energy for a more measured sound richly layered with imaginative percussion, alluring strings, and hopeless sorrow. Where S.S. Web’s previous records were filled with wild macabre stories for packed barrooms, This Cold Soul feels more like a collection of hard-luck tales the last guy at the bar relates to a patient bartender, or the desperate calls he makes to his ex on the stumble home. This is not to say that S.S. Web will wake up with headaches and regret though; this weighty album proves the band still has fresh ground to explore after more than a decade of music.
“This one was very different for us in almost every way,” Berger says. “We knew it was going to be slower overall pretty much from the jump. Because of that, we needed to start supplementing the percussion with something more than washboard and Cajón.”
S.S. Web percussionist Cris Bissell, who plays a creatively outfitted setup that includes a washboard, tin can, cymbal, tambourine foot pedal, and an African drum (the aforementioned Cajón) during live shows, experimented in the studio with everything from a full drum set to a jaw harp to simply “banging garbage,” according to Berger. Bissell, mandolin player David Schuster, and Berger, who plays guitar and banjo on the album, also enlisted Phil Bregant on cello and Pablo Amaya III on violin and viola to help fill out This Cold Soul.
Album’s opener “I Prayed” is a dreary yet powerful track that drives like a big-budget film score beneath Berger’s measured vocals. “Knockin’ At My Door” combines a catchy mandolin hook with weaving violin and features one of the album’s slickest lines: “You’re crooked as a fish hook, tangled as your line, want something for nothing every damn time.” The album’s title track is a stripped-down anthem with an infectious chorus, and “Take What You Can” and “Callous” also stand out on this balanced collection of dark folk tunes.
There is no definitive release date for This Cold Soul, but S.S. Web has already started selling CDs at local shows and will be taking them on a European tour that begins later this month. The band plans to schedule a release party in Milwaukee this summer (watch for details on emptybottles.us), and the album should hit the usual online streaming and digital music outlets in the coming weeks as well.
In the meantime, you can listen to This Cold Soul in its entirety, exclusively at Milwaukee Record.