Ten years into their career as one of only nationally touring acts to call the Tahoe Sierra home, Dead Winter Carpenters will release its fifth studio effort, “Sinners ‘n’ Freaks,” on April 24. The 17-minute EP delivers five new songs to the quintet’s fans spread far and wide while exploring vulnerable themes of family, fate, love and loss.
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EP released on all major platforms April 24
The title song hits hard and heavy right from the top with Jenni Charles’ fiddle rollicking over a well-crafted melody that barely hints at a late-80s Grateful Dead vibe. It’s a plea for God for take care of the forsaken ones passed out brokenhearted in the street after their rough, reckless dreams didn’t quite come true. The song lyrics written by Jesse Dunn are full of contradictions with a rambling gambler who is “playing hopscotch on the straight and narrow” and “zigzagging on that old white line” while hoping for a heaven-sent rescue long after he’s fallen off the wagon.
The band is as tight and funky as ever with a bold, brash sound that has become uniquely their own. They acquired Placerville bassist Jeremy Plog from The Golden Cadillacs last year and he fits effortlessly with drummer Brendan Smith’s laid-back power. A raucous bridge filled with Nick Swimley’s tone-perfect electric guitar and a guest appearance by Jackie Greene on Hammond B3 organ drive the track to a rowdy conclusion captioned by a memorably rocking chorus. It’s sure to become a staple of their live performance as it can hardly be anything other than a love song to the tribal and freethinking music lovers they play to night after night across the country.
The second song “Time Off the Bottle” straightaway changes the tone to the soft picking of an acoustic guitar. The lyrics of this Americana ballad act as a sort of confession when an authentic Charles croons and growls about “feeling low-down, not feeling proud” about some reckless lifestyle choices. She’s got a “wild tongue that cuts straight to the bone” and a penchant for late-night whiskey drinking that has since caught up with her. Realizing she is in need of time to heal and mend, Charles considers sampling little of the aforementioned sobriety in hopes of being able to tell the “darkness from the oncoming light.” A soaring solo by Swimley and Greene’s soulful keyboard licks round out this powerhouse of a track about temptation, loneliness, regret, redemption and rebirth.
The centerpiece of the album is a heartfelt country-folk song called “Cornerstone” that Dunn wrote for his late mother, Donna. It’s the story of how his parents met at the Old Red Dog Saloon in the Spring of ’74, fell in love, got married and raised two children and three grandchildren, before his mother succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2019.
“Mama, she’s the strongest rock of all,” sings Dunn with a trace of vintage Neil Young in his voice. “She’ll always be there smiling.”
The song is a moving tribute that speaks to the eternal love that all families know and share.
Likewise, “Lift Me Up” is written from the perspective of a child, or perhaps the inner child in all of us, as the beautifully entwined harmonies of Charles and Dunn ask their father and mother to take them into their loving, safe arms at the end of a long, eventful day. It’s a beautiful track featuring lilting guitar and melodic bass to accompany vivid, moving lyrics and one of the finest moments on the album.
The EP closes with the upbeat, bluesy ode to life of the road, “Green Room Baby.” For the past three years, Dunn and Charles have toured the country with their now 3-year-old daughter, Mabel. They play super mommy and daddy by day while performing their original music to wild crowds by night. Greene’s formidable piano chops highlight the fun as they take baby down the freeway from Seattle to Portland to Tahoe to Reno. What other kids nap and dream in the green room while listening to her parents jam on stage after the lights go down?
In the end, with “Sinners ‘n’ Freaks” Dead Winter Carpenters have given us five new songs that represent their some of most honest and authentic work to date. My only regret is I wish it were longer. Perhaps some time at home will lead to more great songwriting that will come to fruition later this year.