KILLERS ALWAYS have three names. Important ones, anyway; John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, John Wayne Gacy, Lee Harvey Oswald. Something about that ever-present middle name signifies not just a harbinger of death, but evil, plain and simple.

But there's another side to this sinister pattern: Jerry Lee Lewis. The Killer. No less sinister, probably no less murderous, but somehow admirable, alluring, able to make even murder seem romantic.

David Eugene Edwards is that kind of killer. Sinister but righteous, full of fire and brimstone. Edwards is the son of a Southern minister, and his music owes a lot to the church -- but this isn't happy church music; no hallelujah and salvation, only wickedness and hellfire. His band, Sixteen Horsepower, make mournful, threatening music, and succeed in doing what few bands can do convincingly: write new songs that sound like they belong to another era.

Their music isn't intended for the radio any more than Dock Boggs' or Leadbelly's. And while they have more of a pop sensibility than they'd like to admit, they do a fairly good job of playing folk music in the pre-Dylan, even the pre-Woody Guthrie, sense of the word.

Edwards will enthrall an audience by murmuring low and playing a few quiet notes on a banjo, mandolin, or some other ancient, wooden instrument. Then the electric guitars and drums come in, the room shakes, and his voice becomes loud and furious. The old-fashioned acoustic instruments and the new-fangled electric ones should provide some sort of jarring contrast, but they don't. Instead it's a natural drama: Sixteen Horsepower know how to crescendo like an orchestra, filling the room with sound and then leaving it vacant again.

While the band has had success overseas, they're still fairly unknown here outside of the No Depression crowd, and that's a good thing. Sixteen Horsepower is well-served by obscurity; their sense of mystery would be ruined by mass exposure. So here's hoping their forthcoming album Secret South is even better than their last one, and isn't their long-awaited breakthrough.

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