Like the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t yet exist, Rod Melancon’s Pinkville whips up a world filled with shellshocked war veterans, gun-wielding rock & rollers, and other down-on-their-luck characters, mixing cinematic details and electric guitars into its own version of greasy, gothic Americana.
Pulling everything together is Melancon himself: a southern songwriter and storyteller rooted in the oral tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown. His songs are dark and detailed, and his voice — which veers between a spoken-word delivery, a croon, and a rough-edged howl — is every bit as diverse as the material it delivers. Pinkville, his fourth release, makes plenty of room for that diversity. There are psychedelic soul songs, Rolling Stones-inspired rockers, tributes to icons like Freddy Fender and Tom Petty, and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” all captured in analog sound by co-producers Adrian Quesada and Will Walden.
More biographical than the three albums before it, Pinkville begins in the swampy backcountry of Louisiana. It was there, deep inside Vermilion Parrish, that Melancon grew up making trips to his family’s crayfish pond. During those drives, he’d regularly pass by a dazed, older man shuffling back and forth in his own front yard, dressed in long johns and combat boots. That man — an Army vet who’d fought in Vietnam and returned home in a warped state, his mind permanently haunted by the horrors of the My Lai Massacre — left a mark on Melancon, who kicks off his new album with a spoken-word title track about the man and his wartime demons. That leadoff song introduces one of Pinkville‘s central themes: the hard truths that either make or break a person.
Even so, there’s plenty of uplift here. “Heartbreakers” celebrates the influence of Tom Petty — a songwriter who, like Melancon, grew up in the Deep South before migrating to Los Angeles — while “Rehabilitation” makes a cool case for getting clean. Melancon rides a snake-charming groove during the loud, electrified “Cobra” and turns his own mental struggle into a roadhouse roots-rocker with “Manic Depression.” For an album that’s often steeped in darkness, Pinkville isn’t afraid to shine its light on brighter moments, too.
Melancon, a former actor who was raised by a theater teacher, cranks up the album’s cinematic sweep with help from Will Walden, who pulls double-duty as the album’s lead guitarist and co-producer. The son of Emmy-winning composer Snuffy Walden, Will approaches his instrument like a director, setting the scene with each signature riff. In “Pinkville,” his tremolo guitar rustles up images of a platoon on patrol, while the Keith Richards-inspired playing of “Westgate” helps paint an R-rated picture of a horny, stoned adolescence. “Corpus Christi Carwash,” which tells the true story of Freddy Fender’s former gig at a car wash, sways and swoons like a 1950s pop ballad, while “Lord Knows” struts and swaggers with help from a 1970s organ.
Recorded in a series of live takes in Adrian Quesada’s Austin-area studio, Pinkville blurs the lines between roadhouse country-rock, Texas blues, Louisiana soul, and all points between. It’s haunted-sounding music for the heartland. And it’s Rod Melancon as you’ve never heard him before: focused, unconventional, and willing to chase the muse into territory where few have gone before.