Coming out of the mind, and off the hands, of the artist I call our generation’s Bob Dylan is “The Ribbon and the Rope,” the latest full-length EP by Chris Watkins / Drunk Poets.
Just to refresh my readers about this intricate artist, Watkins is the founding member of the band Drunk Poets as well as a singer/songwriter/musician. Hailing from Alaska, Watkins continues to pen songs that virtually lead to roads less traveled that resonate with music lovers from across the globe.
Unlike his previous releases, “The Ribbon and the Rope” feature songs catered to awakening sleeping societies to remember that we ALL just humans. Watkins gives this social wakeup call by using conceptual themes as his narratives and lyrically points to issues of death, religion, politics, and relationships. Chris Watkins and Drunk Poets encase these candid lyrics within Alternative Rock instrumentation that has elements of Folk and Blues.
Nine songs form this complete collection of modern abstract music:
- The Ribbon and the Rope
- Laurel Canyon
- The Night They Killed Bobby Kennedy
- Devils Lament
- You Need a Man
- Letter from One in the Country
- Way Down in the East
- Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
I will focus on the five songs that fully highlights the EP’s theme. I will sometimes refer to Chris Watkins and Drunk Poets as “Watkins” within this review.
The title track employs that wonderful Acoustic Rock that we have grown to love with Chris Watkins and Drunk Poets. A message about the wounded and how unexpected events can wreck your life sits at the center of the song’s theme, but symbolically this song speaks about saving grace and hope. The line “a ragged stitch” illustrates the fray of a rope and suggests how often the wounds carried by someone is the result of a “rope,” or the pulling of one by social struggles. In addition, the "ribbon" in the "Ribbon and the Rope" suggests how the wounded are given a “ribbon” for honor. Still, with any circumstance, as Watkins sings, “there’s a lighthouse in the squall” – a line that perfectly points out that in all the mess, fear, or turmoil, there is hope buried within, and that all it takes is some digging. The “Ribbon and the Rope” is a great EP opener and is reflective of Watkins’ style of music.
“The Night They Killed Bobby Kennedy” is the third track on the EP and it houses a notable narrative about the closing news topic regarding the death of Bobby Kennedy. But metaphorically, this theme alludes to how a person’s day can literally coincide with the making of world news. The lyrics sing: they called me on the telephone this morning / they told me that the world was going mad / I went down to the drug store for cigarettes and tea / Joan of Arc wore makeup in the alley / the business were banging on the bar / they stood in the shop windows watching the t.v. / I remember feeling soft around the belly / I recall feeling warm around the throat / the insurance man was waiting in the garage with the key / it felt like someone kicked me in the pocket / I knew it wasn't safe to go home / the skeletons were shining like hippies in the leaves / I’m driving down a road that goes forever / I’m running from myself until I’m free / lipstick stains running down my cheek / the night they killed Bobby Kennedy. It’s reality as real as it gets but displayed lyrically. Much like R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” this track describes the elements of many moments within one day that all revolve around an epic time in society.
“Devils Lament” has a title that reads like a dark poem about dirty deeds and hidden secrets. This track is about a sinner requesting forgiveness for his sins but showing an attitude of pride in that what he does is just the way it is, and he’s just a product of his environment, Watkins’ lyrics illustrate this when he sings: I’m sorry about Elvis / I was sad to see him go / I’m sorry about killing that bird in Mexico / I was drunk and he was singing like a pinata in the wind / it's kinda complicated / that's the way it's always been / forgive me father for I know not what you do / when I told you I was sorry / that was just a lie / I choked him in the gutter / I shot him through the eye / the dreams that I have are easy to explain like that bruise on your wrist and the taxi in the rain / forgive me father for I know not what you do / the clergyman's daughter is coming home from school / tea will be served at 4:30 sharp / the maid with her tray in the pantry and the ringing of the bell. Wow! How impactful. This song's styling is so similiar to Bob Dylan's method of writing and depiction of everyday life. The minimalistic approach to the music just further sets the stage for a song where one is vexed but not sorry.
One of the most up-tempo tracks of the collection is “You Need a Man.” Featuring both Chris Watkins and vocalist Flower Evenden singing in unison and harmony throughout the entire track, this duality adds a sense of modernity and frankness as both vocalists add character to the song. The lyrics to the song relate how a man's duty is different to different sexes. For example, the way that Watkins composed this track, we can hear both male and female point of view. Once more, the song lyrically illustrate that with most men, a man’s duties are responsibilities; whereas to women, a man’s duties are obligations. And when I listened to this track, I instantly thought of Johnny Cash and June Cash and how they equally attributed to a song’s vibe and separate point of views.
And one of the songs that feature one of the most beautiful melodies is “Way Down in the East.” Filled with a lot of symbolism, the song clearly brings to life the Oscar Wilde quote that reads “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” The premise of the song’s narrative is basically about things happening that are dark and sometimes ambiguous when the day ends. The song is played in a nice Bluesy style with a mid-tempo. And, sticking to playing the lower keys of the guitar makes for a contemplating track.
The entire EP keeps that acoustic, unplugged, musical direction that is notable in Folk/Blues music. This type of writing and playing harkens front porch singing and gives off a nostalgic, everyday people, vibe which is very comforting but has you deep in thought.
Chris Watkins/Drunk Poets’ approach to music is drawn my authenticity instead of nonsense. Chris does not have a narrow sense of story like many of mainstream artists being played on Top 40 radio who lean more towards the dramatic but show no real feeling for human nature or reality. For instance, Chris stays away from the trends of Popular Music. As an artist, he sees realism as a better depiction of humanity instead of sensationalism. That is what Bob Dylan does for music – build stories from themes and fuse it with music that make people think, wish, and settle. Watkins is forming that type of music tapestry for our generation. Watkins is a visual artist with music that remains rich with themes. With this type of artistry, Watkins will be a meaningful figure in our music culture that will reside for years and years.