If fans of Minnesota based progressive bluegrass act Trampled By Turtles listen to Furnace, the second album by lead vocalist Dave Simonett's side project Dead Man Winter, they might be in for a bit of a surprise. Where Trampled by Turtles' hyper-kinetic instrumentals and fun-loving stage presence has made them a popular festival draw, Dead Man Winter explores the darker corners of Simonett's songwriting.
Furnace pulls inspiration heavily from Simonett's recent life changing experiences, a painful divorce and a physical separation from his children. To cope with his loss, Simonett holed up in a cabin during a particularly cold Minnesota winter to focus on writing. It's a fitting place to write songs for a band called Dead Man Winter, and the chill of that location seeps into every crack of Furnace. Nowhere is both the physical and mental cold felt than in the album's opener “This House is on Fire.” Leading in with a spare solo acoustic guitar strum, Simonett begins the album with “This house is on fire, and I can't escape it. I'm lonely and tired, no will left to fake it.”
While beautiful in a haunting way, ten songs like that would be a downer, so Simonett wisely intersperses darker tracks like “Confessional” and “Weight of the World” with more up-tempo tracks. One such standout is “Am I Breaking Down.” With a jangle-pop melody that sounds like it could have come from a Jayhawks album, “Am I Breaking Down” is a confessional piece that gives Simonett's demons room to dance.
Another upbeat breather is “The Same Town.” It's a refrain that will be familiar to any resident of small-town middle America on the cusp of starting a new life, only to discover “It's the same town, from the sky down to the ground. It'll never ever, ever change at all.”
It's an odd quirk of human nature that, for many, the cure for sadness is to listen to sad music. Some of rock and country's greatest triumphs were built on the ashes of personal tragedy. While not quite reaching that level, Furnace is a good poultice for what ails you, if what ails you is your heart.
Dead Man Winter will release Furnace Jan. 27 on GNDWIRE/Thirty Tigers.