The Tarbox Ramblers' last album, 2004's A Fix Back East, sounded like death, grime, and blood.
"I like that," responds Michael Tarbox, laughing, from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tarbox is not a gloomy guy, not a Nick Cave type. "What's important to me is playing beautiful songs," he says. And they are, at times, beautiful and rocking -- but almost always dark. This darkness, which seeps into the Ramblers' juke-joint blues, hillbilly country, and roots rock, comes from the "brimstone aspect of things" that haunts old American music.
Unlike those My Chemical Romance zombies clumsily feasting on stale, goth clichés, the Ramblers tap into the real American Gothic, fueled by a raw guitar and a voice hollering for redemption but sounding rather doomed. And in the recordings for their new album, due out sometime this year, "There's a lot of menace in there, I'm not sure why exactly." But it's a new element for the latest incarnation of the Ramblers, including drummer Adam Mujica and string-bass player Scott McEwen.
So you guys now create simpler songs with unadorned sound full of menace?
"No, no, not menace," Tarbox corrects, as if he never said the word. Just don't expect light acoustic folk from someone who sees that "mortality is always there, mystery is always there" in early American music.