New folk revival bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers reimagine old-time music as uniformly fervent and life-affirming and white, but there’s some fucked-up shit in the American songbook: odes to deviant sex that would make E.L. James blush, descriptions of crimes so brutal they make Grand Theft Auto look like Super Mario Brothers and existential crises so bleak they give new meaning to the term “Great Depression.” To their credit, the DC-via-Kentucky folk act Vandaveer understand how dark this old, weird America can be; their new album, Oh Willie Please…, is a collection of “traditional murder ballads and songs of self ruin” that have more in common with that new Evil Dead remake than with “I Will Wait.
”Oh Willie Please… is almost too pretty, with Duane Lundy’s crisp production making room for dulcimer, fiddle, cello and the gorgeously textured vocals of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin. Yet, the album succeeds because the prettiness of the music only heightens the ugliness of the actions. There’s a matter-of-factness that makes the slicings, stabbings, stranglings, suffocatings, drownings, hangings and shootings all the more grim. Heidinger doesn’t shy away from the horror of “The Banks of the Ohio” or “Down in the Willow Garden” nor does he wallow in their gruesomeness. Singing about stabbing his lover and drowning her in the river—on both songs even—he trusts the material to deliver its shock.