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16 Horsepower

It's a tad ironic that a band so thoroughly immersed in the American gothic ethic has been virtually ignored on our side of the Atlantic. Europe has embraced 16 Horsepower since its 1996 full-length debut, Sackcloth 'n' Ashes, while back home we've been guilty of ignoring this grave-walking genre like so many unwanted weeds in our own backyard. Perhaps the kitsch factor in hearing a clan of Bible-thumping, bandoneon- and banjo-playing Yanks is one reason for such overseas appreciation. Yet the sullen, spiritually tortured souls of 16 Horsepower would be the last gentlemen to consider hiring for your next pig-roast pool party or shit-kicking hoedown.

While the Denver outfit's latest release, Hoarse, may not alter that somber perception, this compilation of some of the band's best material may, more importantly, finally get the homeland to take heed. Riveting, redemptive versions of "Black Soul Choir" and "Black Lung" charge fearlessly -- in fact, the only fear these bold rednecks seem to possess is that of the Lord and, perhaps, of cracking that elusive smile. With a mixture of stunning live material recorded at energetic 1998 shows in Denver and Paris and the inclusion of some cover versions of the band's rather surprising influences, 16 Horsepower manages to have some fun in this setting -- that is, if Joy Division's "Day of the Lords" is your idea of a good time.

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