The Ax in the Oak could succeed as an album with little more than Ben Weaver’s guitar; his gruff, earthy vocals; and his haunting, literate, and strikingly un-clichéd lyricism. But the 29-year-old Weaver doesn’t stop there. Instead, he textures the album with electronic accents, cello flourishes, and angelic backing vocals that elevate the 12 tracks into the tree tops, and, at times, casts them down into the dirt.
Opening with “White Snow,” sawing cello and ghastly keys give life to Weaver’s verse. “Who put the blue roses by Tennessee’s bed,” he sings, contrasting vibrant colors and deathly imagery. “He looks asleep but he is actually dead.” Weaver laments “Soldier’s War,” the tension breached only by flickering electronic effects and vocalist Erica Froman’s sweet, hushed lilt. He resuscitates lyrics written by the late Larry Brown on “Hey Ray” and “Hawks and Crows,” the substance of the songs nestled comfortably into the themes of his completely original work.
The Ax in the Oak, as a title, is a metaphor for Weaver’s growth as a songwriter, played out in dark metaphors, shadow-laden story-songs, and keen observations contrasted above a din of organic and electronic orchestration. Six albums in, and it’s clear that Weaver’s weaver may finally be able to leave that ax lodged in the freshly cut wood for a bit, but it’s hard to imagine that he is finished chopping.
The Ax in the Oak is out now on Bloodshot Records.