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:
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 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.
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
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.
(3/5 – Just Plain Good Stuff)
– Benny Metten (translated by Monique), Ctrl. Alt. Country
– Jeff Weiss, Miles of Music
– J-Sin, Smother Magazine
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.
– 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