Reviewed by Rev. Keith A. Gordon
Call it "Goth Country" if you will, or perhaps "Black Americana" 'cause the National Lights' first onstage bow is one downer of a disc. Featuring the lyrical musings of songwriter Jacob Thomas Berns, these songs - recited at a deliberate, dirge-like crawl and accompanied by a sparse acoustic drawl - are obsessed with love and betrayal, death and dismemberment. The misdeeds of Berns' characters would be disturbing to any decent folk, and not since Brent Best's southern-fried lyrics romped across Tennessee Williams' literary turf has a left-of-country band delivered such a dark-hued love letter.
Although much of the mayhem in these grooves may be somewhat metaphorical, Berns' songwriting skills are certainly real enough. His simple language is high-brow poetry; his use of primal, elemental fears - fire, water, sudden violence, all-encompassing darkness - provides a powerful emotional tonic. The music is simplicity itself, mostly acoustic guitar, lap-steel and piano mimicking the raw reality of the Appalachian Mountains.
There's some mighty mojo in these tracks and Berns, along with instrumentalist Ernest Christian Kiehne and otherworldly vocalist Sonya Maria Cotton, has pulled off a trick that has escaped just about every contemporary "freak folk" artist: the magical combination of music and misthanthropy. Not for the faint of heart, the National Lights have nevertheless delivered an impressive debut.