Let me start right off by explaining that what I'm about to say about Cains & Abels front man David Sampson is supposed to be read as a grand compliment, as it applies here. It's to be seen as a jolly pat on the shoulder, or a badge of honor, sorta like the way a good buddy of a guy who boxes for a living or a friend of another young dad the morning after a bout or a war of wills and the clock might say to the other, "Man, you look like shit." It's the same kind of thing here.
Those friends just mean the other looks a bit worked over, but it's just commiserating or something fraternal. When we're thinking about Sampson and the way he sounds on one of his band's last albums, "Call Me Up," written following a devastating divorce between he and his wife, the man sounds pitiful, and rightly so. With that said, he doesn't sound pitiful in a way that would make you feel embarrassed for the guy, but rather, he just sounds as if he's been through a whole helluva lot and he's just crumbs at this point. He's banged his head. He's beaten himself up about what went wrong and how in the hell it could have gone wrong in the first place. He's blubbered and he's thrown fists at the air before finally arriving somewhere that's forced him to just throw his hands up in surrender, for all that he can see is that there's no good that will ever come out of further battering. The deeds have been done and the ink has done dried. The break is complete and yet that chasm is still there.
The imagery that Sampson chooses for his reoccurring, thematic swipes are those of a body being torn apart like the carcass of a piece of road kill, a raccoon or a rabbit that tried to cross a busy stretch of highway too damned slowly, or a relish tray, picked at to death. He sings of a body or a pair of bodies that are deconstructed by vultures, by words, by hands, by teeth, by circumstances, by people who no longer know what it's like to be in love with one another any longer. Oh, my lord, is it something violent to behold, this ravaging of the flesh, bone and muscle, even if it's mostly a construct for the emotional undressing and psychological death that goes on. It's a massacre. It's a bloody, bloody affair and there are no winners involved, from what we can hear on "Call Me Up."
Sampson, Josh Ippel, and Jonathan Dawe lead us into these deranged folky numbers that are pure wrenchings of the spirit. There's a hanger's on persistence buried deep within the emotions of the matter and yet there seems to be some closure that's tended to by the cheery mementos of what was had and what's now all but gone. Sampson sings on "Never Be Alone, "All of our laughs started a wave that is still rolling on and on and on and on and on/And you can never be alone/You are loved by me/And I cling to your heart," but then we're reminded that the clinging is a one way thing and there's no doubt that something has unwound when on the album's final song, he offers, "I've seen the dark side come through/Maybe you are not you." It's over, that sad chapter.
*Essay originally published April, 2011