Built with Bones (2006)

Thirteen songs of gothic country, inspired by mortality, the Book of Revelation, and the dark side of love.

Ranked the Number 1 most essential gothic country album of all-time by the music blog Swedish Embassy of Gothic Country in March 2015. Not sure I agree, considering the other bands on the list, but I’m humbled and honored nonetheless.

Released December 2006. All words and music written, performed, and recorded by Christian Williams; album cover art by Paul Rhyne.

Press and kind words for Built with Bones

Hanx.net review (Belgium)

Christian Williams is a song man. He loves them. It doesn’t matter whether he writes them himself (all on Built with Bones) or not (For my Mind, It was Flying, his first album from 2006, contains some covers).
He never overdoes his songs. A banjo and an old Martin – that’s what he works with. And how does that sound when you are the owner of a rusty baritone? The JCS is your answer: Johnny Cash Syndrome. But why doesn’t anyone think of Chris Isaak (Kingman), and why do you never read the names of William Elliott Whitmore and Nathan Wade as comparisons? They are surely kindred spirits.

There is a lot of movement in the songs of Christian Williams, in a figurative sense. The man from Milwaukee, WI who recently moved to Lawrence, KS lets his protagonists walk through the woods (dark naturally), through the saloon, over a gravel road, through hallways and so on. Death and the devil are in charge here. Williams has great admiration for The Handsome Family as well as Dock Boggs but that is something you won’t hear right away.

Williams has certainly made a nice record with Built with Bones, but if he wants to go further in music, he’ll have to make a choice. Either maintain the same canvas but write better songs (now, they are too much alike) or write the same songs and fight the bareness with stronger arrangements.
* * 1/2 (out of five)
– Wim Boluijt, Hanx.net

— — —
Christian Williams’ second cd, Built With Bones, is labeled as Gothic Country. Gothic country it may be, but it’s not as evil as Those Poor Bastards or as apocalyptic as Sons of Perdition. No, Built With Bonesis much more subtle. The lyrics sheet reads more like short stories than songs, and Christian’s almost deadpan baritone delivery, while sounding eerily similar to that of Gil Landry, fits the mood of the songs perfectly. Matter of fact, every bit of the minimal backing instrumentation seems to have been put in the mix deliberately to help build a mood, a mood that does fit perfectly with the sounds of The Sons of Perdition.

Christian Williams wrote all the words, played all the music, recorded and mixed the entirety of Built With Bones in his bedroom studio. If you like your country tales in the shade of death, adultery, murder, temptation and good vs. evil, all told without apology, then Built With Bones is right up your alley.

NineBullets.net

Alt.Country review (Netherlands)

Built with Bones is the cheerful title of the second album by Christian Williams. On the cover blazes a skull so it’s not really surprising that Williams, who looks like a student with his glasses, gets his inspiration from forgotten graveyards, old churches and near-death experiences.
The young man from Milwaukee catalogues his music as “gothic country” and he mentions the work of Johnny Cash as one of his most important influences. And that´s what we will know for sure: You’d think he were his younger brother on this album of thirteen songs. But Williams is on his own, too. He is the brain behind the lyrics and the music; he plays all the instrumental parts, is responsible for the recording and production and prints out the cd’s and album covers by himself. And the result of all this solitary work? A dark, spooky work from a true storyteller.

The tone is directly set in the opening track, “You Ain´t Exempt,” and little by little, Williams’ country-noir becomes more and more thrilling. He narrates about death, wandering ghosts and the dark side of love and accompanies himself soberly on guitar or banjo. His desolate timbre makes you think of, as said before the Man in Black, but also comparisons with Leonard Cohen and 16 Horsepower cropped up.

Not all of the songs are strong and Williams´ voice surely could use some eloquence, but overall, Built with Bones is a powerful album from a youthful troubadour with a partiality for the dark side of life.

* * * 1/2 (out of five)
– Machiel Coehorst (translated by Monique), Alt.Country

Sepiachord review

Christian Williams’ second CD, Built with Bones, is an outstanding collection of Western Folk. It takes us on a ride deep into the Badlands of Americana that is so fraught with darkness, that the pilgrimage trims all the fat from country music. Have no worries, though. Williams’ voice and storytelling are strong enough to support us on the journey. Christian’s baritone isn’t thick, but it is so solid that even when it trembles it can support the world, much less this album’s thirteen campfire tales.
When it comes to instrumentation Built with Bones is as simply adorned, as uncluttered as the prairie. Williams is a talented singer and player. He knows that his voice and guitar are all it takes to evoke his songs. He does add other instruments, but not frivolously. Each instrument that Christian includes (and he plays them all himself) adds something to the song – it helps set the stage or emphasize elements of the story. The saloon piano on “Never the Widow” is particularly evocative. No bit of banjo or strum of auto-harp is out of place.

If these are country chronicles they aren’t mere accounts of life on the trail. They are tales with a Biblical scope. On the recording’s first track, “You Ain’t Exempt”, the narrator is no less than Death itself. On “Something Like Love”, the last track found here, we are entertained with a love song set against the backdrop of armageddon. In between we bare witness to hangings, murders, vengeance and soul-stirring longing.

But listen closely. If you don’t you’re likely to miss the nature of the stories. “When Its Roar Woke Me Up” is an excellent example of the careful listener being rewarded. On the CD’s second piece Williams takes the concept of folk song to a primordial basis. This is the retelling of a Stone Age man and his fated battle with a beast. The narrator isn’t a pioneer with a pistol on his hip, he’s just a man who’s only tools are fire and stone. In the hands of another songwriter, like The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, this man-versus-monster memoir would be tempered with a nod-and-wink sense of wit. To his credit Christian Williams succeeds in playing this amazing song of revenge straight. But what makes the close listening pay off is the incidental reference to the prehistoric warrior covering himself with a bearskin rug. Yes, there is revenge here, just not the vengeance a casual listener will catch.

You can’t have vengeance without death, and without being haunted before death. Repeated listenings reveal that we are around a campfire when we listen to Built with Bones. These aren’t just glimpses of the plains and descriptions of the day. They are ghost songs. From beginning to end this album is littered with the dead. The dead and the living are built with bones, these songs are built with bones, the campfire we sit around is built with bones.

On Built with Bones, Death takes its due, God takes the world, and the Snake still wins.

SepiaChord.com

— — —
“From Milwaukee, WI, the album Built with Bones by Christian Williams reached us recently. He describes what he does on that album as ‘Gothic Country.’ And what is that exactly? Very sober stories about restless souls, mortality and the dark side of life and love, by the man himself all on his own. He doesn’t need much more than an old Martin-guitar, a banjo and his own sonorous baritone. And the result is 13 very special, pleasing, pretty, sad songs. Makes us think of the material of the late Man in Black in his later days. Probably not music for everyone, but still…”
(3/5 – Just Plain Good Stuff)
– Benny Metten (translated by Monique), Ctrl. Alt. Country

“Christian Williams has stories to tell. Williams’ baritone – a shade less menacing than the Handsome Family’s Brett Sparks – delivers each song like a sermon, simply and minimally accompanied by guitar and the occasional saloon piano. His Southern Gothic tales read like short stories of good and evil… each relying on the other to exist.”
– Jeff Weiss, Miles of Music

— — —
“I thought I had heard of it all when there was country fused with hip-hop. Now gothic rock meets country head on. Christian Williams writes Southern flavored music inspired by gothic literature, dark foreboding thoughts of love, and the Book of Revelations. His music is stripped down acoustic folk that reminds you of the original Hank Williams. Old-time country pop is a lost art form and I’m glad to see a young man bringing it back.”
– J-Sin, Smother Magazine

It’s artists like Christian Williams that have made it so I can no longer truthfully say ‘I hate country.’ Previously I wouldn’t have touched anything close to country music with a ten-foot pole, but my hardened heart has found a place for the “classic country” sound. I blame Walk the Line.

Williams’ latest release, Built With Bones, is a “gothic country” album filled with earnest songs that tell stories of love, death, temptation, murder, execution, and the end of the world.

The first track, “You Ain’t Exempt”, sets the tone of the record. A battered baritone, an acoustic guitar, and a story from Death’s point of view reveal Williams’ knack for clever lyrics (“I’m the end of the line / the caboose of your life…”) and engaging stories.

Each track on the record tells a new story, with Williams using everything from saloon-style piano, six-stringed banjo, and an autoharp to transport the listener to the Old West without ever becoming hokey.

“Red” is the most memorable track on the album, telling a tale of adultery that leads to murder. The banjo creates an eerie and uneasy feeling which is further added to by Williams doubling himself in whisper with each use of the word “red.” If I had been listening to this in the dark I would have had to turn on the light, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Another standout is “The Long Drop” which juxtaposes the story of a man’s execution with beautiful chord changes that clash with the story that’s being told. The song ends with the clap of the trap door swinging open, leading to the narrator’s demise at the end of a rope. The effect was as sudden and unsettling as the end of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.

Built With Bones is not entirely built on the matter of scary campfire tales; “Never the Widow” tells of a woman’s unfaltering devotion and “Something Like Love” could easily be altered into a set of non-traditional wedding vows.

If you’ve previously sworn off country, this is a good album to get your feet wet with. If nothing else you’ll hear a few good stories you haven’t before.

mixtapesheartbreaks.com

— — —
“A fire and brimstone country troubadour … feels like a good Southern novel, even though he’s from Wisconsin.”
– A.N. Smith, crime novelist

Built With Bones is a trip deep into the prairie where the forces of good and evil duel through the details of each song’s haunting and melodic beauty. Christian has a firm understanding that without evil, there can be no good and vice versa. The song titles read like short stories, and each song delivers its promise of true gothic American storytelling, the old-fashioned way.”
– Slackeye Slim, fellow teller of dark tales

“Christian Williams describes his mixture of acoustic guitar, banjo and storytelling with a dark side as Gothic country music.The Gothic here meaning songs that paint a similarly parched vision (unless there’s a flood) to Two Gallants (without the surplus verses), Nick Cave (sans piano) and also Johnny Cash’s American series.”
– Howard, Lonesome Music

“Gothy country more brooding than Johnny Cash covering ‘Hurt.'”
– Kenyon Hopkin, Advance Copy

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