Drivin' down Purgatory Road just outside of Wimberley as the sun's goin' down casting a vibe that's angelic, yet suggests the hint of something slightly demented, as the hills of southwest Texas begin to glow in the last light of day. There is something cool and sweet, nasty and hot; I start to get a notion of why such amazing and distinctive music comes out of this place.
We're in an old white van filled with guitars and amps, mic stands and assorted musical paraphernalia, swapping war stories about the good ol' days, when we were young and wild, talking up a storm about the music that has shaped our respective lives: down and dirty blues and endless nights of rock and roll.
"Hey, man. Check this out."
The driver takes his hand off the wheel and hands me a CD.
He's an intense-looking young man with an old bastardized Gibson acoustic. Worn-out blue jeans and a crop of long, wavy hair. But there is something in his eyes, something that suggests he knows something most people don't. The eyes of an old soul. The soul of an old bluesman, withered, weathered, worn but primed and ready to burst out of this young man and preach the news of some new kind of depraved music.
"He any good?" I ask.
The driver of the van, Ray, looks over at me with a huge smile and says, "The real deal, man."
That dangerous smile of Ray Wylie Hubbard speaks volumes!
Ray starts to tell me about Lincoln Durham, whose EP he had recently finished co-producing, which is some kind of an endorsement coming from a Texas music legend. He tells me about this kid who had become an accomplished fiddle player around Arkansas and Oklahoma and who had won the Texas State Youth Fiddle Championship by the age of 10. Lincoln had afterward followed the path so many musicians have, finding his vice in the seductive, siren-like callings of the electric guitar. Or really acoustic slide guitar with gnarly pickups screwed into it. I popped the EP into the deck and I’m immediately hooked. It is as if I’m walking through the hills and a nasty old rattler springs up and bites me. The venom rushes through my body and settles in my gut and head. I see visions of a shadowy figure off a ways in the distance digging a hole, hard to tell, could of been a grave...
I ask Ray, “did you see that?”
“That guy diggin' in that field.”
Ray says, “No, try to keep my eyes on the road when I drive these days.”
I get real quiet while the song continues. I keep my music-induced hallucinations to myself.
When we get to our destination, Ray Wylie looks over and says,
“The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones.”
“The name of Lincoln Durham’s new album.” And he gives that RWH smile. One bite, venom flowing, visions in the twilight, something deep and outrageous is coming at you. Lincoln Durham.
Lincoln had already sunk the fangs of his intoxicating gritty blues guitar and voice into me, and I wanted more. Hadn't had a drink for over 30 years, but I was feeling more than a bit tipsy. I knew this was something out of the ordinary.
Everyone who has heard Lincoln Durham's EP or has had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, wants the same thing: More. But the good news is the debut album is finished. “The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones” is an album of self-destruction. “It is my agony put into words and music via 11 songs,” Lincoln explains. “It is the story of building dreams and tearing down those dreams all in the same moment. I am both the shovel and the howling bones. Burying while at the same time howling and contesting my own burial. It is my existence.”
I'm still living in the mountains of northern California and have yet to make it back down to Texas. But I have nearly worn out Lincoln’s EP. I have watched every video clip of his live performances I can find on the Internet. And if you like what you hear on the disc, you will be blown away by his live performances.
Lincoln Durham simply owns the stage! Equipped with old, makeshift 1950s amps, resonators, fiddles, harmonicas, tin can microphones, slides, stomp boards and you name it, Lincoln gives birth to a sound that transcends genres. His dark, poetic and raw writing style is reminiscent of his mentor R.W. Hubbard, telling tales that Poe would have been proud of. His guitar work is like a locomotive pumping and driving the runaway train that is Lincoln Durham and his music. This is not to imply that any of it is in any way out of control. On the contrary, he never stops driving that train.
Face it, bios are usually a bunch of facts about someone's life. Admittedly, I do not know a lot about the life of Lincoln Durham, aside from what I have been told and read in various places. But this is not a bio, not even much of a review; this is a testament to the rare talent of a young man who has gone against the grain of his peers. If what this songwriter/musician is doing makes him some sort of black sheep or seems in some way off kilter, good. Make no mistake, it takes something beautifully “off” to get up on stage with just hands and feet for a band driven by an amazing voice to perform some of the most solid music I've heard in a long time. Music that harkens back to the old blues masters, Son House and Fred McDowell, infused with the likes of Tom Waits and Ray Wylie Hubbard himself.
I admit that I am curious how a young fiddler makes the leap into a foot-stomping, raunchy, old-time blues groove. As a lover of music, a player myself and an artist in a few mediums there is a question that often pops into my head. Whatever a musician’s roots might be, especially as a kid, wherever the strange and curious places your artistic path takes you, what is it that makes someone like Lincoln Durham comfortably ease into that venerated old place of the bluesman? Does the music choose you? Is it something like destiny? One word pops into my mind: Passion.
Lincoln Durham’s passion seems to know no bounds. He has taken the roots of the blues and bluegrass and has carried them to a new place. Intelligent lyrics, strong musicianship, a seriously infectious vocal style that slays – he's rolled them all together into a perfect package that can only be called Lincoln Durham.
I admit this is hardly a conventional bio. Truth is, I don't know that I could write one even if I wanted to; but most important, it would not do justice to Lincoln. For anyone who really wants a bio of Lincoln Durham, listen to him, go see him perform. In his songs, in the way he delivers them, is everything you'd ever want to know about the man. His music is his bio.
I'm grateful to my friend Ray Wylie Hubbard for believing in this amazing young artist and for having turned me on to his talent. Bio? The story of Lincoln Durham has only just begun.
Michael Clark Lorenzo