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Have Gun, Will Travel: 'Blessing And A Curse'

Have Gun, Will Travel's Matthew Burke.
Have Gun, Will Travel's Matthew Burke.

Tampa Bay-based alt-country group Have Gun, Will Travel began as the solo project of lead singer and songwriter Matthew Burke, but has since become a full band. Burke put out HGWT's self-titled debut release on his own in 2006. For the band's sophomore release, Casting Shadows Tall as Trees, he's assembled a group of six players, including his brother, Daniel Burke on bass. Casting Shadows is steeped in the country twinges of lap steel, harmonica, banjo, strings, and acoustic guitars. The record's true strength is its artful tributes to classic westerns, tying the album stylistically and thematically to the wild-west in all its gun-blazing glory.

Have Gun, Will Travel takes its name from the title of a famous 1950s gunslinging western TV show. The show followed Paladin, a gentlemen gunfighter whose calling card was the visage of a chess knight — the same knight that graces the cover of the HGWT's Casting Shadows Tall as Trees. But the tribute goes beyond titles and packaging; Burke's rich songwriting weaves classic western themes of life and death, honor, and morality throughout the record's narrative songs.

The record places its epic gun fight at the beginning. The album opens with "Pistolas at Twenty Paces," a fierce, 30-second, rattling guitar strum which mimics the tense soundtracks of the twenty-pace gunfights in old westerns. This leads directly into the barroom (saloon) stomp "Blessing and a Curse," a story song about "the bitter end for the chief of police" (sheriff). The crooked cop is "caught with his hand in the till" and shot down: "That's when the chief came stumbling in / With a half empty bottle of gin / The whistle blew, the shot rang out / The bottle shattered as his body hit the ground." Like so many of the album's tracks, the vivid imagery, the good versus evil, life versus death themes, and the rolling alt-country arrangements make the song classic while remaining fresh and energetic.

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