Head For The Hills. Potions And Poisons

h4th_pp_cover1_final3_545_560Another one of those bands who are taking Bluegrass into a more formal arena, Head For The Hills, a Colorado four piece, eschew the frantic scrubbing and speedy solos one associates with the tradition. In some ways they are similar to The Punch Brothers although nowhere near as formal and there is a warmth at the heart of their playing, something which this writer feels is sometimes absent from Chris Thile’s crew. This is perhaps most apparent on the title song which has a strong musical architecture – the melody flows, the harmonies are great, the playing refined yet delivered with a fine zest – and there’s a sly humour in the lyrics with singer, Adam Kinghorn, admitting that the potions and poisons in question include candy, coffee, cocaine and coitus!

Several of the songs do have that Punch Brothers’ habit of changing time signatures in a song while the instruments approximate the various sections of an orchestra in miniature. The woody timbre of the fiddle (and occasional cello and viola) is used to great effect but there’s less debt to classical composers with more than a hint of Tin Pan Alley here and there, Telling Me Lies being a good example. The opening song, Afraid Of The Dark, is a murky gun fuelled tale that might be a murder ballad although the words are somewhat opaque. The overall sense of menace is relieved by a weird waltz time instrumental break (with a backwards sound effect included) towards the end. Suit And Tie is zippier with the band taking flight on their strings and things despite the morbid lyrical content. Give Me A Reason is a sturdy foray into lost love with the guitars predominant amid an Appalachian air while Kings And Cowards opens as if it were a singer/songwriter confessional before a lovely string arrangement weighs in transforming the song into a mock baroque folk song with Bonnie Paine (from Elephant Revival) adding some wonderful harmonies. Bitter Black Coffee is almost a sister song to the aforementioned Potions And Poisons although here it’s a song about the difficulties of resisting temptation.

While there’s much to delight (and to think about) throughout the songs herein the band do offer up two extremely fine instrumentals in the shape of Floodwaters and Bucker (which closes the album). Again there’s a sense of refinement around these, no instrumental abandon but a display of virtuosity in the playing and, most importantly, a real sense of an ensemble who are in touch with each other.

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Johns & Nowak. Johns & Nowak. Independent release

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This Bristol based country bluegrass duo were kind enough to send their debut EP to Blabber’nSmoke at the tail end of last year but we’ve only recently got around to giving it a full listen. Turns out that it’s an evocative listen with the duo delving deep into the world inhabited by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (although with some role reversal in terms of the vocals). Andy Nowak is the guitarist while Camilla Johns adds mandolin, the two instruments welding together perfectly. Nowak is the singer and Johns the harmonist, again their voices blending well with Nowak’s lead voice nicely wearied and worn.

As a fledging unit they’ve (perhaps) wisely used the EP to set out their singing and playing skills first and foremost with four of the six numbers covers. They’ve also gone “old school” singing into a vintage sixties microphone and recording to good old fashioned tape and the sound is indeed warm and up close. This works to best effect on the opening song, Bill Monroe’s Dark Is The Night, Blue As the Day which is just short of wonderful. The lazy swing, the plinking and plonking interplay of guitar and mandolin and Nowak’s nuanced vocal delivery all coalesce into a fine old time sound that captures Monroe’s high clear sound. More up to date is the cover of Nickel Creek’s 21st May which actually benefits from the stripped back duo delivery with the guitar/mandolin interplay particularly good here. There’s a bit of a curveball as they tackle Creedence’s Bad Moon Rising but picked to the bone and slowed down it fits well into the overall picture as does the closing cover of Welch and Rawlings’ Wayside/Back In Time which strips out the organ and fiddle of the original but ups the tempo somewhat. With Johns sharing lead vocals here the playing is more robust and as the song opens it is surprisingly reminiscent of vintage Richard Thompson.

There are two originals. A song from Nowak, Still Standing Still which is folkier than the covers tempting one to consider whether a bluegrass duo playing songs in a Nick Drake vein is a plausible concept. Spider On The Headstock is an instrumental composed by Johns and again it sits more comfortably in a folk setting with its elegiac process and nimble dexterity.

A fine first start then and well recommended.

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The Coal Porters. No. 6. Prima Records

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Only yesterday Sid Griffin, erstwhile founder of The Coal Porters was anointed a cult hero by The Guardian for his role in alt country pioneers The Long Ryders. Problem with cult heroes is that, by definition, they are relatively unknown, often long gone before cult status is bestowed on them. No such problem with Mr. Griffin as not only is he alive and kicking he’s barnstorming across the country with his “alt bluegrass” band The Coal Porters who are now in their 25th year, originally following the Ryders’ country rock path before entering the 21st century as an all acoustic band.

No. 6 is the sixth album from the acoustic Porters and it’s important to emphasise that while Griffin might be the “name” here the band are a truly democratic collective with song writing and singing duties shared between Griffin, guitarist Neil Robert Heard and Fiddler Kerenza Peacock. Produced by folk rock legend John Wood (who has worked with Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, John Martyn and Beth Orton) the ten songs here see the band working within their bluegrass base while including folk, country and even 80s’ type indie romanticism.

Herd’s Songs are muscular and earthy. Save Me From the Storm is a clever amalgamation of sea faring folk song and spiritual call and response with the Porters’ dynamic soloing mid song quite invigorating. Unhappy Anywhere ripples along finely with a Celtic lilt and morose lyrics, Herd in a Hibernian existentialist mood. Meanwhile The Old Style Prison Break is a keen examination of cowboy movie staples delivered with a shit kicking front porch jollity.

Ms. Peacock offers up the instrumental Chopping the Garlic, a showcase for her fiddle playing with the band not playing second fiddle, banjo player Paul Fitzgerald and bassist Andrew Stafford getting the chance to shine along with Griffin on mandolin and Herd on guitar. They certainly zip along and the coda is cool. She then sings on Play A Tune (apparently her first vocal performance) and it’s a much more mannered song than its siblings. Her high, almost breathless vocals and fiddle allusions to The Lark Ascending are miles from normal Porters fare but it’s a very personal song, a tribute to her mother and its wonderful performance reminiscent of acts like The Raincoats and Virginia Astley.

Your man Griffin turns in his usual high calibre efforts. He strolls effortlessly through the jaunty Salad Days, a witty quickstep recalling his brush with fame while Train No. 10-0-5 is classic story telling with Fitzgerald’s banjo well to the fore before Peacock goes all Scarlet Rivera. He tops this with the sublime The Blind Bartender, a song that’s loaded with Peckinpah border drama heightened by the soaring trumpet solo from Cuban Eikel Venegas which transports the song into a dusty cantina. Wonderful.

We need to mention the closing song. A fine Coal Porters reclamation of The Only Ones’ Another Girl Another Planet, bound to be a sing-along at their gigs and then there’s Griffin’s opening gambit, his bluegrass tribute to the Ramones on The Day The Last Ramone Died. No stranger to rock’n’roll history Griffin here takes the tragic fact that all four bros are gone and forges an excellent tribute to them. His memories of seeing the band, donning his leather jacket when he heard of Tommy going, his aside regarding the ubiquity of the tee shirt are delivered energetically and I’m pretty sure that when they play this live it will give the audiences one more chance to yell, “Gabba gabba hey.”

Currently touring the UK (dates here) the good news is that if you’re quick you can catch The Coal Porters in Glasgow tonight at Woodend Bowling Club

The Hackensaw Boys are back in town

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Since their formation in Charlottesville, Carolina around 19 years ago The Hackensaw Boys have gained a couple of reputations. One concerns the sheer number of musicians who have passed through their ranks over the years. Another more pertinent one is of being one of the most joyful and rambunctious live bands around, raucous and great fun, “head banging string band music” one reviewer said of their shows. This month sees the release of their latest album, Charismo (on Freedirt Records) which is named after their preferred percussion gizmo, a contraption composed of tin cans, hubcaps, car licence plates  and other “junk”. A Heath Robinson like contrivance that’s like a steam punk washboard the Charismo has been an integral part of their set up since the first one was hammered together by one time band member Justin “Salvage” Neuhardt. Coinciding with the album release the band are setting out on a lengthy European jaunt which started in The Netherlands and includes four UK shows this week including a slot at Maverick Festival.

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Charismo is their first full-length release in almost ten years and features the current line up of David Sickmen on guitar, Ferd Moyse, fiddle, Jimmy Stelling, banjo and Brian Gorby on Charismo and drums. Produced by Larry Campbell who has worked with Dylan and Levon Helm it has 11 songs (all written by Sickmen and Moyse) which can ripple and ring with an old time Appalachian swing, swerve into folk territory or just generally rip it up. Songs like Ol’ Nick and Limousin Lady are simply exhilarating while The Sweet is a folky number that could have been penned by Ewan MacColl. There are whoops and hollers aplenty but some reviewers have commented that the album is just that bit more mellow than they had come to expect from The Hackensaw Boys. Certainly C’Mon Baby Don’t Bet Against Me and Flora roll sweetly along, the former reminding me of The Nitty Gritty Dirt band in their heyday but even in mellow mood the Boys still have a fine rustic rawness.

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Blabber’n’Smoke had the opportunity to speak with original band member David Sickmen while he was in Pittsburgh in between shows. David was happy to talk about the meandering history of the band along with some discussion about the current parlous state of politics (which I’ve left out here, suffice to say we both dislike blonde buffoons peddling lies and fear) but first of all I asked him about the album and those comments on the band mellowing somewhat.

Well we had this batch of songs we took into the studio and that’s different from playing live. In the studio there’s the temptation to shine every diamond but really we just tried to make every song sound great and with Larry Campbell producing it was just a very natural and easy process. As for the songs however I’d be lying if I were to say that I’m not getting older and maybe a bit more mellow so a lot of what I think about writing about is on the softer side of things, more ballady if you like. But the live shows are definitely energetic and we want folk to come out and party and leave all the bad shit, the Donald Trump’s and that behind and come out for a couple of hours and dance and party and drink beer.

Larry Campbell’s probably best known for being Dylan’s guitarist for several years on The Never Ending Tour and for producing Levon Helm’s last albums.  How did you hook up with him?

Through mutual friends. We reached out to a friend who got some demos we had recorded in Amsterdam to Larry. He thought they were great and he agreed to produce the album.

This is your first full-length album in around ten years, why so long?

Well we’ve had EPs and such but yes, this is the first album in about ten years. Why? Well, life,  poor management, people leaving the band and then we were spending so much time on the live circuits that we just didn’t have the time. But I think it’s been worth the wait because we’re more mature now.

The band’s always been something of a shape shifter, people coming and going and then some coming back again. You were one of the original members then you left and then came back again. There’s four Hackensaw Boys right now, is that right?

Yes but we’ll have a fifth member when we get over to Europe, we’re currently looking for an accordion player. I helped start the band in 1999 and then in 2005, well, I guess the pleasant way to say it is I couldn’t think straight anymore so I had to step out for about five years and then some of the other guys had to leave and I came back in, by then I was a lot healthier.

I read that at one point you had about 12 people on stage.

Well we started off as just four guys but within a week or so a friend of ours jumped in on harmonica and then we started doing thses shows in Charlottesville, in a place called the Blue Moon Diner, another guy would come up and say, “I play banjo can I come on up” and we’d say sure and it just kept on growing. We embraced anyone who wanted to play, we just said come on.  So yeah, at one point we had 12 guys playing. We did our first tour in a 1964 GMC motor coach, an ex Greyhound bus.  12 of us on the road and we did that for about a year, then people would fall away over time. Some would act up too much, we did fire some people, one of the guys passed away, so yeah, we have a kind of wild history with the line up but I don’t shy away from that, it’s part of the beauty of it all. The thing that’s kind of risen to the top is that the spirit of what we try to do musically has always been there no matter who’s playing in the band.

That’s the spirit of the band but how would you describe the sound of the band?

It’s not truly old time music. If it’s old time at all it’s in the spirit of encouraging people to dance, to come out to the barn if you will and have some fun. It’s maybe our interpretation of what guys in the 1920s might have been like, you know, travelling around, going to different places in like a three county area doing barn dances. Obviously it’s folk music but a lot of us grew up on rock’n’roll and punk and that is filtered into it but really, even after all these years I still don’t know what to call it to be honest. Maybe just say it’s hard rock and folk music that rolls. Some songs rock hard, some are quieter and some just roll along. I mean what do you call it?

Well we talk about old time music, string bands, bluegrass and folk but with a lot of bands it’s all mixed into one. I’m trying to avoid the word Americana here.

Yeah, we get the bluegrass moniker and that’s mainly based on the instrumentation but honestly I don’t think we’re a bluegrass band, traditional bluegrass might share the same instruments but it sounds different from us. We don’t sound like the Stanley Brothers where there’s no percussion, there’s certainly no “badam badam badam!”, the drive is different. When we started out we were listening to traditional music. Our original banjo and fiddle player was into old time music, he was taught by a guy in Harrisonburg called Two Gun Terry.  Tom (Peloso) was coming from a background where he listened to Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers, his grandfather was an old Irish guy who listened to that stuff, he can probably to this day sing you every one of the Clancy Brothers songs. Me, I grew up around my uncle and he had a lot of records of gospel bluegrass so I heard a lot of that. In addition, my mother was from the coalfields of West Virginia and when we went there to visit family I would hear the Baptists singing in the church. Of the original four of us Robert Bullington, well, his great-great uncle played in a jug band that actually recorded back in the twenties, they were called the Roanoke Jug Band out of Roanoke Virginia and Rob still had his uncle’s original mandolin. So we all had this background but then we were all also into punk and rock’n’roll so that’s really the origins of the band. Another original member was Robert St. Ours who was good friends with Ketch Secor and Critter from the Old Crow Medicine Show, they were in a band together in Harrisonburg called the Route 11 Boys before he joined up with us. We had a guitar, a mandolin, a banjo and fiddle and an upright bass and we learned some old songs like John Hardy and that but we were also all songwriters and we wrote in that direction. It wasn’t fake or contrived, we were trying to honour our perception of Uncle Dave Macon, Doc Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb or Tommy Jarrell and of course the Blues guys, Howlin’ Wolf and such. We were into all of that and we all loved Bob Dylan and we all knew about folk music.

There’s a long list of past and present members of the band on your Facebook page, some 25 folk I think. How do you keep the essence of what it is to be a Hackensaw Boy?

Well the psyche and the story of the band are all these different souls coming in and out of it and while we used to shy away from it somewhat, I mean it was like well who’s in this band, well, the world. It’s a world band.

I sometimes think that if we discovered America today and found all these guys playing banjos and fiddles we’d find it exotic and file it under world music.

Deep down we’re all human beings, genetically we’re all the same but through time and history we’ve all developed different characteristics and I kind of see what we’re doing as similar to that, it’s all one style of music but played in so many different ways. We’re a multi dimensional band, musically, spiritually, even politically, I mean I’m more political than some of the other band members but ultimately you can get trapped by words and descriptions. In many ways we’re still trying to figure out who we are. I’ve found that in my writing sometimes.  I’ve written something and I start to think, “is this a Hackensaw Boys song?” and that’s a really stifling, limiting feeling. It’s anti music in a way because it’s all about growth and I feel that this band, 19 years and 25 members later, well, we’re still trying to see who we are. I mean we’ve played everywhere from The Ryman to the shittiest bar in America, we’ve done it all but we’re still searching and I think that’s why we’re still a good band.

The album’s named after the band’s unique percussion instrument, the Charismo which was originally built by Justin Neuhardt who hammered together some tin cans and hubcaps which he then beat with wire-brush sticks.

Yeah, again back in the early days when we were playing in the diner  Justin joined in and he was playing spoons and when we were about to go on that tour I mentioned earlier  he was like, “I don’t want to play spoons for six weeks”.  He’s an artist and sculptor so he showed up a couple of days later and said “check this out”, this contraption and so that was the first one. It’s great, it has the qualities of a washboard but so much more and so we called it the Charismo because it had so much charisma. It really fit in with our sound, pretty soon the audiences in the diner grew until there were folk queuing up outside who couldn’t get in.

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I hear that it’s been rebuilt, hammered together, taken apart over the years.

Well I believe that he’s actually built about a hundred of them by now.  A lot of them are actually on Justin’s wall back in LA where he’s a full time sculptor.

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By the time this is published you’ll be in the early stages of a lengthy European tour.

We’re doing the lot, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, France and The UK. We’ve been over several times and I really like playing to the European audiences, they seem to get really excited about the music. Sometimes in the States we play and people just stand around but in Europe maybe we seem more… exotic, perhaps that’s the word. There’s a festival over here, Floyd Fest in Virginia, which was originally a world music type festival and I went to the first one, 10 or 12 years ago and there were these African musicians and I just stood there in awe because I’d never seen or heard anything like that, so maybe that’s how some folk in Europe see us.  We go down really well in Germany and Spain; in the UK we’re not as well known. When we play a place like the Cluny in Newcastle it’s packed but in London the crowds are smaller. We’d really like to crack the festival circuit there. We played Clonakilty in Ireland and it was crowded but in Dublin there was only a couple of dozen there. It’s hard, I mean it’s not hard like a Syrian refugee’s life is hard or how life can be hard in the real world but to keep on doing this and be creative is a struggle. Maybe the UK are still mad about the revolutionary war!

It amazes and also dismays me that bands like yourselves, unless it’s part of some big festival or there’s been some kind of hi-res publicity like a TV show, can play to audiences of less than a hundred over here.

That happens to us in the States as well but we’ll play to small crowds and then big crowds, we’re still slugging it out. We play the exact same show no matter how many people are there, if it’s a really small crowd we might just forget the mics and stage set up and just come down and play on the floor. That’s usually a part of our show anyway. We’ll come off the stage and just break it down to its rawest form and people really like that. It all boils down to making a living and we’ll have some merchandise at the shows, Tee shirts, records.  Charismo is out on vinyl and we’ve got a 7″ single we recorded in Amsterdam which is two of the demos from the album. It’s our first foray into vinyl and we’ve actually been selling as many of those as we do CDs.

Finally, can I ask a dumb question?  Where does the band name come from?

It started almost as a joke. When we started playing at the Blue Moon Diner the guy who ran it took us on as our manager for a while and we didn’t have a name and he wanted to know what to call us. And then Bobby and Tom said well we’re kind of like hacking and sawing away here, hacking on the guitar, sawing on the fiddle and I think it was Tom who said Hackensaw and then Boys was just a sort of traditional moniker for a lot of Appalachian bands. So that was that but I sometime wish we had left the Boys bit out.

UK dates.

Tuesday June 28 Boston Music Arms London
Wednesday June 29 The Moon Club Cardiff
Thursday June 30 The Cluny Newcastle
Friday Juyl 1 Maverick Festival Easton

All European dates are here

Website

Free Dirt Records

Pictures of The Charismo courtesy of Justin Neuhardt. Thanks to Free Dirt Records and Ark PR for facillitating the interview and many thanks to David Sickmen for a really enjoyable chat.

 

Donna Ulisse. Hard Cry Moon.

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Bluegrass singer/songwriter Donna Ulisse’s latest album, Hard Cry Moon is a wonderfully down-home piece of work. Dedicated to her grandfathers, one Italian, one American, she sings about her memories of these men on several of the songs here while the remainder are effectively tinted with nostalgia. Conjuring up a more innocent time Ulisse and her players (Casey Campbell, mandolin; Dennis Crouch, upright bass; Stuart Duncan, fiddle and Scott Vestal on banjo) weave together a wonderfully delicate tapestry of sounds with her voice evocative and warm. Assisting her on harmonies is husband Rick Stanley, cousin of the famed duo Carter and Ralph.

The album opens with the spritely Black Train which positively belts along in true bluegrass style with some scintillating instrumental breaks. Ulisse then delivers the first of her eulogies here with Working On the C&O describing her grandfather’s 50 years working on the railroad,  initially as a “gandy dancer.” She explains this term in the liner notes and the song is a fine example of honouring and remembering a generation who worked harder than most of us could ever imagine. Her liner notes also explain her ode to her Italian “papa” who died when she was aged just seven, her abiding memories of him belonging to time spent in his well tended garden. The song, Papa’s Garden is a heart tugging piece which one could well imagine Dolly Parton singing sharing as it does Parton’s love of family narrative. In between there’s a fine song, We’re Gonna Find A Preacher which one imagines is Ulisse’s idea of romance around her grandparents’ time and which is delivered with a fine patina evoking old times, the fiddle sawing away over plinking guitar and banjo as the couple “with his daddy’s suit and my mama’s gown” plan to elope.

There’s more memories on It Could have Been The Mandolin where Ulisse sings about the joys of hearing Bluegrass on the radio while she covers Whispering Pines, a song she has long loved. Elsewhere she just delivers some excellent songs such as the very fine title song which has the makings of a classic heartbreak song. Away from the comfort of the majority of the album there’s a sense of danger on the spooky The River’s Running Free while Ain’t That A Pity is a rapid fire bluegrass workout. The album ends with the very gentle I’ll Sleep In Peace at Night with Ulisse joined on harmonies by Fayssoux McLean, a veteran of Emmylou Harris sessions.

While Hard Cry Moon is a fine example of the bluegrass Ulisse there’s space here to mention an album she slipped out earlier this year called The Songwriter In Me. Issued in conjunction with a book she’s written about her song writing it consists of demos which are in stark contrast to her fully realised projects. It’s a riveting listen and places Ulisse firmly in the tradition of singers and writers such as Diana Jones and is well worth checking out.

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Front Country. Sake Of The Sound.

It’s interesting to see and hear bluegrass evolving. Back when the Grand Old Opry ruled it was a mortal sin to have drums included and when the longhairs (in the shape of The Byrds) invaded all hell broke loose. By the seventies The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Grateful Dead were flying high with that lonesome sound while players like David Grisman and Peter Rowan were updating the genre. Bluegrass has been at times newgrass and elements of jazz and jam bands have been thrown into the mix but at it’s core it’s always been a bulwark or touchstone for those who see Nashville going through its periodical makeovers be it The Nashville Sound, the big hat arena rock style or the current bro movement. Despite the early straightjacket imposed by the Opry Bluegrass has proved flexible enough to adapt and adopt new styles and while there are numerous excellent examples of straight ahead old time bluegrass bands composed of youngsters there’s a sense that there’s a new wave of, and pardon the use of, “progressive” players working in the idiom with bands like Fish & Bird and Run Boy Run recent examples.

The above is really just a long winded way of introducing California’s Bay Area band, Front Country, who do use the terms progressive and chambergrass to describe their music. There’s no doubt that as a band they are extremely skilled and there are moments on their debut album, Sake Of The Sound, that are pure bluegrass in the true sense with Glacier Song being the best example. However there are moments when the instruments veer off almost like jazz or rock solos while a song such as Colorado uses the stringed instruments to create a powerful throbbing undercurrent before breaking out into traditional form on the middle eight. On the opening song, Gospel Train, they manage to conjure up a powerful spiritual blues that harks to both the delta and the electric violin stylings of Sugarcane Harris when he was with Zappa.

A six-piece band, Front Country are fronted by the immensely talented Melody Walker who along with guitarist Jacob Groopman (who’s also in the band) released the magnificent We Made It Home album last year. Walker and Groopman provide the vocals as well as guitars while Adam Roszkiewicz on mandolin, Jordan Klein, banjo and vocals, Leif Karlstrom, violin and Zach Sharpe, bass fill the line up. With original songs and some choice covers including a gutsy rendition of Utah Phillips’ Rock Salt & Nails the album might not be to the taste of traditionalists but a listen to the title song which manages to combine the pop sensibility of Fleetwood Mac while retaining a woody, organic feel should convince anyone looking for a sense of adventure in string band land.

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Random Canyon Growlers. Dickey Ain’t Got All Day.

Regular visitors to Blabber’n’Smoke will know that we’re suckers for energetic bluegrass/old timey country music with bands like The Hot Seats, The Foghorn Stringband and Hillfolk Noire regularly getting mentions here. Ignited many years ago when we first heard the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s triumphant triple album Will The Circle be Unbroken we quickly fell under the spell of the first two Holy Modal Rounder albums, old time music with a weird twist. The Rounders became weirder over the years but one song that has always stuck with us is Peter Stampfel’s Random Canyon, a sweet, innocent and nostalgic almost kiddie type song that hammers Puff The Magic Dragon into the ground. So it was with a sense of anticipation that we stuck the Random Canyon Growlers onto the hi-fi in case there was some element of Stampfel’s druggy nursery rhyme here. Sadly this was not to be the case however we did get to hear a great album of vibrant and energetic bluegrass songs that positively brims with confidence.
Hailing from mountainous Wyoming the Random Canyon Growlers are a young band with what appears to be a revolving line-up. Here they are a five piece with mainstays Jamie Drysdale and David McMeekin on guitar and banjo respectively. Their sound captures the classic air of bluegrass and old time country perfectly and although they attack the faster songs with a breathtaking energy they are equally at home with the more lachrymose ballad including a grand version of the Louvin brothers’ Dark as The Night. The the ensemble playing is tremendous and the solo virtuosity on display is at times breathtaking, the string bass snap on Doghouse assaults the ears with its ferocity. While they cover the likes of the Louvins and Bill Monroe the majority of the songs are written by Drysdale and McMeekin however a blind listen would fail to differentiate between the covers and the originals as they have immersed themselves in the tradition and updated it with brio. The songs leap into life with fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo duelling away in magnificent style while Drysdale and McMeekin throw their heart and soul into the vocals. They definitely stake their claim to be one of the best of the current young bluegrass bands.
Harking back to the Holy Modal Rounders at the end of the album a bunch of hidden tracks capture the band goofing around with one segment very reminiscent of the interludes on the Rounders psychedelic masterpiece Indian War Whoop. Intriguing.
Anyhow and more to the point the band are currently touring the UK commencing yesterday. Dates below. If they can carry off this level of achievement live then they’re a must.

Mon Oct 15: Sarratt, The Cock Inn
Tue 16: London, King’s Cross
Thu 18: Barnacre, The Kenlis Arms
Fri 19: Newport, The Bargeman’s Rest
Sun 21: Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Café
Tue 23: Horsham, The Tanners Arms
Wed 24: Lewes, The Snowdrop Inn
Thu 25: Bristol, The Canteen
Fri 26: Cardiff, The Moon Club
Sat 27: Sowerby Bridge, Puzzle Hall Inn
Sun 28: Stranraer, The Grapes
Mon 29: Cookstown, The Red Room
Tue 30: Omagh, The Weigh Inn
Wed 31: Listowel, St John’s Theatre
Thu Nov 1: Wexford, The Sky & The Ground
Fri 2: Belfast, The Belfast Barge
Sun 4: Arklow, The Fifty Six Bar

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