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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Partly Cloudy


Those Poor Bastards set nightmares to music
Tarnation and twang

Macabre country is the band's specialty.
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Madison has greeted many young, friendly acoustic outfits lately, including Count This Penny, Anna Vogelzang and Evan Murdock & the Imperfect Strangers. Such acts may put a fresh face on folk and country, but Those Poor Bastards want nothing to do with it. This Madison project began releasing albums of morbid country dirges in 2004, drawing on the earnest Christian warnings of the Louvin Brothers and the sordidness of the Misfits and Tom Waits.

But lead singer Lonesome Wyatt and his collaborators - Vincent Presley of Zebras onstage, and a banjo picker known only as the Minister on record - don't simply explore the same misanthropic impulses year after year. The intro track on the band's 2004 debut, Country Bullshit, warns listeners to expect unsanitized, "raw and bleeding" country music. In the years since, Wyatt's writing has progressed toward grander themes of damnation and plague. Last year's Behold the Abyss is a narrative companion album to The Terrible Tale of Edgar Switchblade, Wyatt's novel about a bounty hunter tracking down an albino werewolf.

"It gets a little harder to come up with a fresh direction," the soft-spoken Wyatt admits. "The next thing I want to do is something with more of Vincent drumming. I picture it in an old barn, and just kind of a live and super-stripped-down recording."

In previous years, Those Poor Bastards have served as the opening act for several of Hank Williams III's tours, earning new fans and an endorsement from an artist who shares their love of both country and punk. This year, they have just two shows planned: Feb. 9 at the Frequency and August's Muddy Roots Music Festival in Tennessee.

Wyatt plans to spend more time on his solo project Lonesome Wyatt & the Holy Spooks, which is finishing a record called Ghost Ballads. His description of its opening track, "The Golden Rule," suggests he isn't yet over his grotesque obsessions.

"It's about this girl who gets murdered, and some children walking to school find her lying on the ground with an ax in her head," he says. "So then she comes to life, and they follow her lead, and she just starts killing everyone in the town because she doesn't know who killed her."

But this isn't just a gory horror story. It's a reflection on morality gone awry.

"She's trying to do unto others what they did to her, so she's just killing the whole town with the kids' help," Wyatt explains. Then, after they've killed most of the people, she turns on them and kills all the kids because it could have been them, too."

After six albums that flesh out Those Poor Bastards' bleak and tormented worldview, Wyatt's ready to find a slightly different tone.

"I think I'm going to have to take a break from the religious stuff," he says. "I think it's going to focus more on just being a mean, horrible person."

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