Sawdust, Heartbreak and Booze
Who cuts their debut album at age 79? Cast King of Old Sand Mountain, Alabama, that’s who. Though he began playing back in the 40s and recorded for the legendary Sun Studios in the 50s, it wasn’t until 1998 that Matt Downer tracked down King in Pisgah, Alabama and talked him into committing 12 of his tunes to a proper debut entitled Saw Mill Man. King taught Downer the guitar leads and as a result we have possibly the most authentic sounding country album to come out this decade.King’s vocal and guitar style have obvious similarities to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but they can’t be considered influences so much as contemporaries. Lyrically, this is classic country at its finest. Songs deal with depression, cheating lovers, drugs and alcohol, and of course the sawmill. The album opens with the title track, moseying in with an echoing guitar lick before King starts lamenting about the hard life of a sawmill man. King details the hopelessness of the profession: “The bridge is washed out/ At the foot of the hill/ If the devil don’t get me/ Then the sawmill will.” On “Low Low Blues” King’s doctor advises: “I know what you need/ just a little bit of weed/ to cure those low low blues.”
Though all the songs are stripped down to vocals and two guitars (rhythm and lead), the album is obviously compiled from multiple recording sessions. Vocal levels fluctuate track to track. Some songs are live takes, such as “Cheap Motel,” while others sound appropriately like they were recorded on King’s front porch. Pour a drink, shed a tear, and enjoy King’s fine storytelling.