It feels hard to believe that Woven Hand were celebrating their 10th anniversary last year with the release of this wonderful book and CD, “Black of the Ink”. After all, 16 Horsepower have been noticeably absent from the folk world for 7 long years, and though Woven Hand obviously began before 16HP’s demise, the cycle of time just seems to have quickened around them. Even so, “Black of the Ink” is a welcome new offering, and it’s fair to say that the book here is the most important new piece of Woven Hand’s puzzle, coming into existence as a 110-page hard-cover book that contains the complete lyrical writings of David Eugene Edwards throughout the six albums that have been released under the Woven Hand name. Included with these writings are illustrations that have been drawn by Edwards himself. The bonus to this collection is the 6-track disc that is contained within a sleeve on the back cover of the book. This disc contains 6 tracks — 1 track from every Woven Hand album that was released in their first decade of existence, each of which was reworked and re-recorded exclusively for this release.
It should be clear before ever opening to the first page of this book that this is more than a simple collection of lyrics. Anyone who is familiar with Woven Hand knows the deeply personal and, more importantly, spiritual reflections that Edwards incorporates into his writing, and it’s interesting to see how he has progressed over a decade into more abstract thoughts. An immediate feeling of nostalgia will hit some upon opening the book to its first page that begins with the lyrics to “The Good Hand”, obviously signifying the head of the path that weaves through their six full-length works track-by-track. The easily felt intensity and emotion behind the words here are pure, from the prayer of “My Russia” to the humbling realizations and views of death and the eternal kingdom in “Blue Pail Fever”. These are words that anyone can read and understand in their hearts. Others themes are more difficult to place like the recurring themes of wood and glass as humans or parts of us. Wooden eyes are spoken of in “The Good Hand” to define eyes that cannot see — they are solid, opaque, unable to let light or sight through. However, One glass eye appears in, ironically, “Wooden Brother”, indicating one who is able to see the truth, and who is strong and durable. There is also the recurring female role whom finds her way into many Woven Hand tracks, some of which accompany imagery that is incredibly personal or even sexual in tone hinting at the presence of Edwards’ wife. Some are also obviously spiritual in tone, while others could embody any woman.
While some lyrics lack the light atmosphere of melancholy that generally accompanies many Woven Hand tracks just by the very nature of missing the music that accompanies them, these emotions comes through stronger in some writings like “Your Russia”; likewise, what is seen as one of Woven Hand’s most depressive tracks in “Last Fist” comes off with a different attitude when looked at as only words — certainly a stern warning about everything from a quickness to anger to the blind rush of passionate youth to join the military to go to war. This shows, but only in small part, that, as with most great song-writers, most of the time there are dual layers of emotion and meaning that can become lost in the translation to music, a subtle spirit that is found within the lines of text in this book. “Oil on Panel” specifically seems special in this regard. To this day, this was one of the most powerful tracks that I’ve heard from any artist, including Woven Hand. That same power was held in equal amount and equal intention through its simple text — a testament to the power of word, and the power of music.
Visually, Edwards’ illustrations seem to represent the increasingly abstract nature of his lyrics. Somewhat ironically though, most of these illustrations are very worldly and, most of the time, human. Most illustrations seem to represent a human form, be it the simple recognizable vision of a head or face as with that which accompanies “Swedish Purse”, or the strange, tree-like human vessel of “The Threshing Floor” whose distorted, crooked and curved limbs stretch out to the sun. Of course, some are more animistic and nearly unrecognizable or, at best, difficult to understand in context to the lyrics they accompany; these images include the dragon-like illustration that accompanies “Horsetail” and the swirling, horse-like spirit that bows in unison with a larger, darker human head to its left. Perhaps these images shouldn’t be taken as a ‘pairing’ with the lyrics they appear with, but after some thought it isn’t overwhelmingly difficult to find philosophic ties between them, including positive ideas of companionship, loyalty, spiritual freedom / liberation, ascendance. With the dragon-like image, however, there is an air of tension, anger, “fire”.
So, the last question for most people would obviously be “how different are the re-recorded tracks featured in “Black of the Ink?” Well, Terre Haute, for starters, is a stripped down version featuring strictly guitar and vocals and thus missing the Native Americans influences and strong percussion that made the track (and new album) so unique, but it embraces the airy, ethereal nature of the original chorus through the entire track. “Not One Stone” follows, embracing much the same change in atmosphere and instrumentation, leading to conclusion that the tracks for this companion disc were entirely recorded and performed solo by Edwards, and why not? Overall this is a dedication to his writings in a stripped down form without music — it only seems natural that the new versions of the songs that accompany the book would be much the same. They are minimal, disrobed of any Earthly accompaniments. Priestly. Monk-like. Seen in a new light and beauty through their most fragile and naked state. That said, the spiritual implications for the complete collection in this book are boundless. A religious tome unto itself as written from the most sacred and intimate of Earthly places — the human heart.
01) Terre Haute
02) Not One Stone
03) Whistling Girl
04) Oil on Panel
05) White Bird
06) Last Fist