Scott “Wino” Weinrich is a restless man. Not content with alternating his solo career between acoustic and electric workouts, he’s started a new band called Premonition 13 that furthers his heavy power trio vision (cf. last year’s 13) and has teamed up with German singer/songwriter Conny Ochs for more acoustica on Heavy Kingdom. Fans of Wino’s previous wooden guitar record Adrift already know to expect minor chords, plainspoken vocals, occasional electric guitar lines and dark themes; the addition of Ochs merely gives him someone to play off of. Ochs’ voice is far less gruff than Wino’s, but he possesses the same no-nonsense charm. (Oddly, it’s Wino who takes most of the harmonies.) With no rhythm section, the tracks sound like they were recorded quickly in someone’s living room, which they might very well have been, and there’s more than enough melodic variation and determined riffing to stave off monotony.
As might be expected from music this intimate, the duo often turns inward – Ochs with the cautiously romantic “Here Comes the Siren” and Wino with the contemplative “Somewhere Nowhere” and “Labour of Love.” But the pair also surveys the spiritual and practical desolation of the modern world, and in the title track, “Dust” and “Vultures On the Vines,” they don’t much like what they see. The duo’s thematic and songwriting sensibility is ironically best expressed in the record’s lone cover – merely the choice of a Townes Van Zandt song says it all, and the fact that it’s the late genius’s brooding “The Highway Kind” underscores their desire to avoid false optimism and treacle. Heavy Kingdom may have the lightness of touch that comes from open air acoustic music, but its title is appropriate all the same.