Songs in A&E may be Pierce at his most grave and heavy-hearted, but even the prospect of death hasn't shaken his ultimately life-affirming music. In "Death Take Your Fiddle," he incorporates the sounds of someone wearing an oxygen mask, their breaths taking longer than usual, but Pierce creakily counters that with a mortality-cheating refrain: "The way I feel now / death is not around."
In fact, juxtapositions abound in A&E , which continues the stripped-down aesthetic Pierce explored in 2003's Amazing Grace , but trades the garage bombast for mostly acoustic, classical and folk elements while retaining his signature spatial arrangements. The Southern gothic narrative of "Borrowed Your Gun" is scored symphonically; the country ballad "Don't Hold Me Close" features a clarinet. And somehow, Pierce deftly makes sense of it all. It seems the pharmaceutical bluesman has made the transition from astronaut to cowboy.