Heading our way in support of the ever popular and always entertaining Pokey LaFarge Cincinnati based trio The Tillers unleash Hand on The Plow, an unabashed joyful stomp of an album that has fiddle and banjo flailing away over the 11 offerings on show. It’s old time string band music delivered with a fine degree of dexterity much like numerous other albums reviewed here but once again we find that the tradition is given a makeover in the shape of well written songs which are delivered in fine style by a charismatic frontsman, in this case Mike Oberst. Oberst wrestles with the songs beating them into submission with his powerful and dynamic vocals as witnessed in the excellent I Gotta Move which slinks along as Oberst repents of wallowing in cocaine and whisky, his voice hollering and pleading while guest musician, J.D. Wilkes (of the Legendary Shack Shakers & The Dirt Daubers) adds some fierce harmonica. Oberst is also able to portray a more vulnerable side as he sings of memories and more regrets on the sweetly flowing Weary Soul although his delivery maintains a sense of passion.
While guitarist Sean Geil gets a couple of numbers to sing it’s Oberst who remains the centre of gravity but the trio ( with new bassist and brother Aaron Geil replacing Jason Soudrette, sadly battling illness) gel well together and their ensemble playing is always spot on whether it’s the mighty fine The Road Never Ends, the lazy rhythms of Shanty Boat or the frenzied Tecumsah On The Battlefield. Geil does get to deliver the morbid ballad of Willy Dear, a fantastic tale of a sailor’s wife believing her man lost and hanging herself only for him to return a day late. This is something of a tour de force and demands repeated plays.
On the strength of this album The Tillers look like they might be a terrific live act and there’s an opportunity to catch them on their upcoming UK tour with some dates in support of Lafarge and some as headliners. Dates on here
Interview with Mike Oberst on the songs and recording of the album