The sun blasted and sand blown 3hattrio, denizens of Utah’s Southern Desert, continue to comb their way through the arid and atmospheric landscape which surrounds them on this, their fourth full length album. Their basic line up of guitar, violin and double bass is again enhanced by spectral sounds and effects while the voices are often like shamanistic exhortations with repetition used to induce an almost trance like effect.
At the heart of the band are three musicians (Hal Cannon, Greg Istock and Eli Wrankle) with various backgrounds in American folklore, creative art and classical music and who in essence are a string band par excellence but, just as Dr. John was a great r’n’b pianist, they depict their ochre infused landscape with as much invention as Mac Rebbenack did with New Orleans back in his Gris Gris days. There’s a hypnotic lure in the songs here, a temptation to succumb to the incantations and swirling dust storm of sounds the band summon up, the hallucinatory effect of the desert laid bare.
The three musicians’ distinctive styles create the contours of the album. Cannon provides the ballast, the lonesome traveller in the desert, Istock is the Shaman, the beguiler whose incantations and esoteric sounds are almost a peyote experience while Wrankle conjures up an ethereal mistral of sounds evoking the shifting landscapes sculpted by the forces of nature. Lord of the Desert is perhaps the band’s most successful invocation so far as the songs slide into one another, disparate elements fused into a whole as they shift from the banjo led introduction, Dust Devil; the traveller stepping foot into the alien territory forewarned but unabashed, to the closing surrender to the lord of the desert, gravely intoned by Cannon. In between it’s an Odyssey of sorts amid the sand dunes. Pilgrim bustles with a spritely bass line and fuzzy electric violin and a rare mention of water, normally a good thing in a desert but here a harbinger of danger. Night Sky finds the instruments approximating the sounds of the creatures who venture forth after dark before the discombobulating babble of voices and eerie sound effects of Faith Is In Our Hands, a last cry of the faithful before the pagan desert swoops in which it does in the brace of Istock songs which follow. War ripples with Eastern influences, tabla and oud like sounds which summon up a vision of lysergicly scarred Iraq veterans recreating Operation Desert Storm while Faith can be construed as their attempts to recall an earlier normal life in flashback, all to no avail as I Am returns to the Eastern influences with Istock’s grunt of a voice invoking Imans and infantry grunts.
Cannon’s everyman returns on Wastelands of Yesterday, an extremely parched approximation of The Handsome Family’s bizarre canon before the even more parched instrumental Skeleton Tree which has a Morricone touch to it. Then, like insects buzzing around a flyblown corpse, Wrankle’s violin introduces another Istock invocation as the old man of the desert on Motel, sounding here like an indecipherable Walter Brennan, a trick repeated on the following Won’t Help (although there’s a soupcon of Dr. John’s voodoo in here) as the spirit guide abandons the traveller who is left to rhapsodise on what could have been in the forge towards the new west on Poor Boys.
Bleached as white as bones in the desert sun, creaking and cracking like stones in the frozen desert night, infused with the memories and voices of those who have travelled and travailed across the sandy wastes, Lord of The Desert is a trip in more ways than one. It is mind expanding in the best sense as 3hattrio offer the listener an opportunity to explore, experience and enjoy their American desert music.