The Payroll Union ‘Paris Of America’ - Backwater Collective

Quite were to place this Sheffield band is a question. The album is more rock than roots but at the same time has hints of the darker side of Americana. The album was made in collaboration with the University of Sheffield. It deals with the riots that took place in Philadelphia between 1830 and 1840. It is a well packaged presentation that comes with a fold out insert that has the cover on one side and the lyrics with historical overviews for each track. There are also a series of footnotes that further illuminate the historical perspective.

The Ballad of George Shiffler which opens the album in fine style is about a battle that took place in 1844 regarding the use of the Protestant Bible and resulted in the death of an eighteen year old George Shiffler. Bull which follows is in full-on rock with a strong persistent drum beat, raging guitars and singer/songwriter Peter David’s striking voice which has something of David Eugene Edwards’ (Wovenhand) intensity in its delivery. The songs are arranged by the band and Tom Baxendale, Ben Fuller and Paul Heath all bring their A game to the songs. They are joined by keyboard player Shane Surgey who adds some additional but very important textures.

The eight tracks (plus one uncredited song) all manage to effectively tell the story of these times. The songs run through sequential events of fierce inter-denominational faith. A subject that has obvious resonance through these isles as it did in the Philadelphia time period of the album. David’s song work as songs and in the hard folk rock context that they are delivered from. That these song have memorable choruses is testament to the strength of David’s writing and to the band’s delivery. Wo Unto Sodom has a funeral pace and an overriding sense of a American gothic sensibility.

Paris Of America is decidedly not an album that country/roots fans may take to with ease but it needs to applauded for the skill and research with which it tells it’s grim tale. The more open minded will enjoy it’s inventiveness and solid, savage vision of how easily that conflict can emerge from what should have been an open spirited debate. The closing listed track Will You Still Remember Me? has all the dilemmas of a person who struggles with the duality of saturday night and sunday morning. Something that even the most traditional Hank Williams fan could appreciate.