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A GUIDE THROUGH DARK HORSE’S ‘THE DESTROYER’

REVIEW BY CELIA ALMEIDA

Collin Whitlock really wants to take you home with him, so he wrote a soul record about it to convince you.

Or at least that’s how it seems initially upon listening to the first couple of tracks off of his new record The Destroyer for his project Dark Horse.

One hesitates to make a Beatle comparison off the bat for a musician best known in our town as the keyboardist for the Shitty Beatles, but the Paul McCartney influence is in Whitlock’s hands, heart, and DNA. It can’t be hidden or denied, and why would you try?

The album’s first song, “Fight!” begins with harmonies borrowed directly from the Beatles and a piano tone reminiscent of the final notes of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but instead, the music kicks into an upbeat 60s Motown groove. The effect on the body is immediate. You’ll find yourself adding hand claps as you imagine dancing on stage playing tambourine with the band.

“Fight! Don’t let the nightmare get a grip on you”, sings Whitlock. “Open your eyes. Starve the darkness that’s been eating you. Shine a light on where it’s leading you. And I can take you home.”

This is your first clue that this album is deeper than a collection of come-ons set to poppy, melodic, piano and organ driven soul music. Collin Whitlock, through his vehicle Dark Horse, is trying to lead you somewhere.

“We got plenty more good days, so let’s take you home.”

The McCartney influence continues with “When I Call”. The first few seconds sound like early, solo McCartney, but like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, the song heads in an unexpected direction, eventually becoming a riff heavy, solid guitar jam that derails into an extended organ-led instrumental section. It is one of the best moments on the album.

“Start All Over” features the only instrumental guest contributor on the album, with Travis Atria of Morningbell playing trumpet and saxophone on the track. Atria is Whitlock’s bandmate in the Shitty Beatles, and his partner in crime in the Slims. Last year the duo released the brilliant Killa Dilla, an album about the rise and tragic fall of fictional soul singer Snooky Green.

The only additional guest contributions on The Destroyer are background vocals by Sam Moss of Hundred Waters and Cassandra Polcaro, who sings background vocals with Annie Neimand of Annie and the Heart Burglars in the live incarnation of Dark Horse. The liner notes indicate that all songs are otherwise written, performed, and recorded by Whitlock himself.

“Fun In London” is a sneaky interlude of sorts for the album, where the darkness of the record and self-doubt of its protagonist begins to show.

“Gravity’s kept me down too long”, Whitlock sings on the next track. “I’m tied down to the man I’m supposed to be… I need a little time to get my life in order.” The ensuing killer  gritty guitar work on the song may come as a surprise to those who are used to hearing Whitlock communicate most effectively with his piano.

This is one of a few songs on the record composed as a set of movements, and using his guitar instead of his piano, it becomes one of the points where he best emotes that this is a record about showing face and perhaps even feigning bravery while searching for someone to share one’s life, fears, doubts, and insecurities with, while coming to terms with the reality that you may have to learn how to go at it comfortably alone.

The breezy “Bag of Bones” grapples with this reality as it leads the listener through the splitting of the furniture, belongings – and most of all, the heart – that takes place when a lover leaves; and the loneliness and doubt they leave behind.

This self-doubt is voiced by Whitlock’s hushed vocals at the beginning of the closing track “Congrats”. “How does it feel to know you’re to blame?”

The spacey seven-minute song is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Time” with its “ooh ahh” harmonies, and is a dialogue between the part of the singer that wants to continue the journey to reap the possible love and acceptance on the other side, and the part that feels defeated underneath the weight of all his self-doubt and fear for the future.

“I won’t give up the fight.”

You come to realize that from the first lines in “Fight!” he’s been shining a light on where the darkness has lead him, hoping you’ll do the same. That’s where he’s been taking you all along.

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