The debate over Confederate iconography has exploded in recent years—see the 2015 removal of the flag from South Carolina's state capitol grounds in Columbia, last year's toppling of a Confederate monument in downtown Durham, and ongoing protests against UNC's Silent Sam statue. Every so often, small groups of Lost Causers—some of them decked out in full Confederate Army cosplay—gather to lament the flag's absence and spew their heritage-not-hate errata. They dare defend their rights, sure, but so, too, do the protesters who come out in droves to combat the myopic bigotry endemic to the Lost Cause narrative.
Of course, the conflicts have been underscored by hateful rhetoric of the Cheeto in Chief. How else to explain the twin protest-song centerpieces of Where the Wildest Spirits Fly, the latest missive from Durham's The Pinkerton Raid, but as a response to the current sociopolitical miasma? On "These Colors Don't Run" and "Jefferson Davis Highway," Jesse James DeConto digs hard for meaning. On the latter, a dusty shuffler that paints a nice portrait of the rusted and rustic "God's own country" of Carolina backwoods, DeConto casts pointed barbs at continued support for Confederate history and ideals, evoking gravitas without being overly somber.
"Colors," meanwhile, is a poignant call for unity, for love to overcome hatred and fear. "You said these colors don't run," DeConto warbles, buttressed by doleful horns and a backing choir, during the song's chorus, before wondering, "Then why are you so afraid?" Both songs nod to the band's sharpening prowess, particular DeConto's confidence as a bandleader.
But Where the Wildest Spirits Fly spends too much time mired in midtempo waltzes, and the band's attempts at texture fall short of their intended mark, less The National and more an effects pedal-heavy Mumford and Sons. And as much as he's sharpened his songwriting, DeConto still struggles at times with treacle. The gang shouts of "These colors don't run/Red, yellow, brown, black and white" toward the end of "These Colors Don't Run," for instance, resound not as call to arms but a groan-worthy bit of naïvete.
Still, most of Where the Wildest Spirits Fly's misses are by slim margins. Sure, there are those who wring out more astute excoriations of the duality of the Southern thing (Lee Bains and Drive-By Truckers spring to mind), but few brim with as much hope.