Dreaded Folk Rock
Over the past four decades, the music of 65-year-old guitarist and songwriter Chuck Owston has varied widely: rockabilly to Celtic folk, Delta blues to gloom-flecked Americana from deep in the Appalachian forest. Since 2005, this backwoods preacher from Ardara, Pa., has been riding high with a new band called Bonfire Night that turned out to be more than he intended.
The band was formed out of Owston's interest in reinterpreting the folk rockers of his halcyon days in the '60s -- groups like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. But a strange convergence happened when electric guitar, thumping bass and crashing drums were added to the mix, and the band started to play Owston's original tunes instead. The sound grew heavier, louder and a tad more gothic, which ultimately made it much more amenable to a rock club than to a folk/acoustic show, and just as appropriate for Samhain as for Solstice.
So nowadays, Bonfire Night plays alongside garage punk, rockabilly and goth bands (such as Bella Morte), with Owston's own takes on macabre folktales, medieval balladry and cold, bloody murder. On Bonfire Night's debut five-song EP, Johnny Scarecrow, there are aspects of classic '70s heavy rock -- Hawkwind, Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath -- but the folk idioms still emerge unscathed. Tracks like the aptly named "Dirge" and "Bloody Crow" spin chilly midnight yarns, coming across like blustery pirate sea shanties for gothic landlubbers dressed in tall boots and corsets.
Although very raw in the production department (it seems as if the proceedings were recorded lo-fi and live as much for expedience as for authenticity) Bonfire Night does give the impression that it's as serious about its folk-derived material as it is about having a rollicking evening out. The title track concludes the disc with a sordid saga about a Headless Horseman-type character who roams the countryside at night, causing mayhem and fright. I've a feeling that, if he had his druthers, Owston would himself return from the grave someday as just such a gruesome spirit.
Bonfire Night with Crimson Burnout and Radio Active. 10 p.m. Sat., Dec. 28. Excuses, 2526 E. Carson St., South Side. $5. 412-431-9847