When Dead Man Winter first appeared, the band was dubbed Dave Simonett’s electric outlet. It was where a banjo and mandolin got traded in for electric guitar and drums. While their Facebook page and website refuse to commit to any full time members beyond Simonett, Trampled fans can generally find Trampled’s bass player Tim Saxhaug and fiddle player Ryan Young playing alongside him. JT Bates is typically on drums with Erik Koskinen rounding out the group. Their first album, 2011’s Bright Lights was a kind of ode to Minnesota winter, capturing the starkness of the cold, the loneliness of the dry night air and the things we do to remedy the season. Now, six years later, we find Simonett on the heels of divorce, the unraveling put to words and music, called Furnace.
In a way, Furnace picks up where Bright Lights left off. It maintains the starkness, the crispness of the dry Minnesota winter air. It carries still that aloneness and weariness that comes with shorter days and longer nights. But from there it’s clear there is a change in Simonett’s writing and song construction, many of the tunes foregoing traditional format. There’s a definite “nothing-to-lose” vibe in place giving the songs weight and depth.
“This house is on fire and I can’t escape it,” words that open the album, diving into a story already in progress. It slow dances with us, steady drums and heartbreaker guitar with their hands firmly in the small of our backs. Harmonies brushing the side of our face to get the hair out of our eyes. The song fades out as the lyric “we’re drifting away” is sung on repeat. It’s a beautiful metaphor that draws an outline and sets the stage for the album.
Unlike the raucous fast paced bluegrass party of Trampled, this DMW album bleeds vulnerability in its cracks. On “I Remember This Place Being Bigger,” we hear Simonett’s voice in a way we rarely do. He chooses to end phrases by barely touching the notes, Dylan-esque in his execution. His tone is gentler, softer, not to be confused with less confident. Another one is “Cardinal” which begins with swelling guitars before turning into a gorgeous duet with an unknown female partner. Their voices both broken and weary.
Furnace is not without upbeat tracks. “Destroyer” moves to a happy throwback rhythm and illustrates sarcastic self deprecation. “Am I Breaking Down?” harkens to the sounds of Wilco, with that CA feel coming through. Simonett uses sunshiney beats as a juxtaposition for sad material, perhaps to make himself feel like it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
The album culminates into a track called “You Are Out Of Control.” It’s a slow cowboy anthem with lush strings that drone for the last four minutes of the song. Out of control, indeed.
The whole feel of Furnace is like you’re in a divey slightly run down country bar, with wood floors covered in stale beer and saw dust. The melodies are uncomplicated raw mixes that allow you to hear every imperfection at work. It’s no frills, real talk, welcoming anyone willing to listen. It’s not full of ego or a kiss-off to a broken relationship but more like a chronicle of the end with glints of new beginnings. It’s at times a clear look into a man who’s wearing his heart and his head and other body parts on his sleeve, exposed for all to see.