Workin’ & Dreamin’
Putting The Folk Back Into Country, But With a Razor Sharp Contemporary Edge
It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since we reviewed Bard Edrington V’s album ESPADIN and here he is again with a new and very different concept alongside fellow singer-songwriter, Boris McCutcheon (and honorary Brother Greg Williams and Hoth Sister Sarah Ferrell) .
Sadly; as is the case with many musicians Edrington and McCutcheon occasionally have to take on other work to supplement their income; and in the Winter of 2017 they found themselves pruning fruit tress; and as is their won’t the pair got to talking about music; and the kernel of this album was sown.
Both men completed their imminent solo albums and set about recording this in February.
Without spoiling it, it took me a couple of plays for the jaunty opening track Trees of Heaven to unravel and reveal a subversive Folk Anthem that sounds powerful in its own rite today; but I guess this sing-along Gospellish tune will take on a life of its own in the ensuing years; as not just America, but the whole damn world goes to Hell in a handcart!
While the production here is quite simple; it’s a deliberate ploy allowing these songs to breath and grow the more you listen to them/
While the Hoth Brothers bill themselves as a Folk Act; Whiskey and a Woodstove, Horses Are Made of Wind and Fault Line are 100% Country songs, with spines that combine Bluegrass, Hill Music and even a smidgen of Western Swing in the choruses.
Another thing is apparent all the way through the album, is that the Hoth Brothers know how to create a melody; something that is often missing on albums and songs by their contemporaries; with Chili Line and both being remarkable stories; but ones you can also dance too (if you have a good sense of rhythm).
While I’d prefer acts like this to be signed to $1 million contracts and selling albums by the cart load; it’s a good thing that isn’t always the case; as self-releasing albums allows Bard and Boris to write and record songs like Wild Robby, Flint Hills and especially the delightful Bitter Frost without having some guy in a bad suit chomping on a Cuban cigar hanging over their shoulders asking “Where’s the single?”
While there’s an obvious ‘old-timey’ feel to most songs here; there’s also a real contemporary ‘edge’ to several sets of lyrics; none more so than January, written in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s inauguration; and because of the way they treat the subject matter ……. this song is easily the RMHQ Favourite here. Check it out ASAP.
To paraphrase what they themselves say “It’s a long ride, 16 songs in all ……. but it really is a journey of truth and wonderment from start to finish.”
Workin’ & Dreamin’
Folksy Bluegrass from the wilds of New Mexico, with a barbed lyrical punch
When you harness the old mountain sounds of roots music (banjo, fiddle, mandolin etc.), it better be underpinned by some really good songs, or have something really worthwhile to say. Otherwise your offerings are little more than those of a ‘denim dungarees and hay bales’ variety show turn. New Mexico’s Hoth Brothers (spoiler alert: one of the brothers is clearly female) save us from any such suffering – they’ve got simple, unfussy songs with strong lyrics in abundance.
Boris McCutcheon and Bard Erdington are the principal writers; they got together whilst working pruning trees in old New Mexico, and they’re pulling no punches in songs such as ‘January’, where the orange toddler in chief and all he stands for, is encircled and lyrically disembowelled. Sixteen tracks make this a long listening session, but there’s plenty to reward such perseverance. Opener ‘Trees of Heaven’ also speaks of an end to presidential evils, and how doing so would “let the sunshine in”. They’ve no need to convince this writer of the merits of their idea. ‘Singing Grass’ is sooo slow and loping, kind of Springsteen or Prine meets ‘Oh My Darling Clementine’. It’s quite charming, however sad the story; probably the stand out track here. ‘Rendezvous Duel’ is a slice of Western Noir, ‘Chili Line’ an old fashioned hill country train’s a comin’ jig. Closer ‘Wild Robby’ tells of the triumphs and ultimate tragedy that befell a group of wandering criminals; it’s one of those could-easily-be-hundreds–of–years-old folksy ballads. It’s a nice way to end things for the Hoth Brothers – casting their rootsy influences back to a logical starting point.
Workin’ & Dreamin’
Having already released his own solo album earlier this year, Bard Edrington V now returns in company with fellow songsmith Boris McCutcheon on a project spawned as they swapped musical ideas and stories while pruning fruit trees in a New Mexico apple orchard. Workin’ And Dreamin’ was recorded in just three days with Sarah Ferrell on upright bass and Greg Williams on drums and draws inspiration from the Appalachian tradition collected on a Harry Smith anthology as well as a novel about Kit Carson, it casts an eye back while taking a contemporary perspective.
It’s underpinned by two politically potent tracks directed at the current White House incumbent, opening with the banjo driven, gospel infused ‘Trees Of Heaven’ with, taking a cue from Jesus driving out the moneychangers, a call to arms to remove the blight that infects us, be that chopping down the Chinese elms, felling “the orange man” and, sending the “devil Pence back to hell” to “give our kids a fighting chance to win”. The other is ‘January’, a nod to the inauguration, as they declare it’s “time to cut the strings on Putin’s pawn” and that “we’re coming for you and your liver, orange man”. It also sports the nice line “you can cry or us a fake news river”.
Again featuring clawhammer banjo, the title track (although reversed on the song itself) continues the idea of turning your efforts to “build what you can, take care of your family” so as to “live your dreams, be what you want to be”.
Written by McCutcheon, ‘Singing Grass’ recalls the pioneers who built a life on the frontier sung in the voice of one such about the Native American woman he married, their life together trapping for pelts to trade and of the fever that eventually took her. There’s similar historical slant to ‘Whiskey And A Woodstove’, a stomping blues about mountain moonshiners while, McCutcheon blowing harp and echoing Erdington’s vocals, the jug band feel of ‘Flint Hills’ continues the theme of working the land to feed hungry mouths back home.
You’d never make it through life in the old west as a working man if you didn’t have a four-legged friend, celebrated here in McCutcheon’s shuffling rhythm folk blues ‘Horses Made Of Wind’ on which, at one point, he even gives an equine snort, that, Stephanie Hatfield on harmonies, is about going stir crazy from being cooped up. The title, incidentally, doesn’t refer to their speed, but rather their farting.
Staying in the same period, ‘Rendezvous Duel’ concerns a shoot-out during the Mexican-American War while, riding clawhammer rails, the New Mexico mesa is the setting for the simple traintime ‘Chili Line’ whistling through the pines. Switching musical styles, the collaboratively-penned ‘The Birds Still Sing’ opens unaccompanied before hitting handclap worksong rhythm about carrying on regardless of trials and tribulations (“give when you have nothing”) just like the birds sing even when they’re starving, offering the homespun wisdom that “sometimes you gotta go down to the basement where the spiders live to see what the angels sent”.
Returning to mandolin and banjo, with a picked acoustic solo, McCutcheon’s sprightly, Guthrie-esque ‘Bitter Frost’ is also a moral lesson to “protect the meek whatever the cost”. Moving into the final stretch, Ferrell on harmonies, the simple fingerpicked love song ‘Fault Line’, the bluesy slouch ‘Rogue Wave’, an Erdington co-write with Andy Keifer, and ‘Balancing Act’, another number about trying to reconcile late 60s America when “there was truth in the air” and “the songs still had soul”, with today, afford further highlights. Referencing the American West explorer John Wesley Powell, it ends with another co-write, all three voices coming together for ‘Wild Robby’, a mandolin strummed Mark Twain-like narrative about a bunch of Utah boys, running wild and raising hell, stealing Indian corn and turkey eggs, before “late spring by the whispering cave, Robby disappeared without a trace”.
Hoth comes with several meanings that have resonance here, among them an acronym for outreach charity Help On The Homefront. Personally, while it may be unlikely, I fancy it as a reference to the planet of snow and ice that serves as base to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, the guys in their musical X-wings taking arms against the Death Star on Pennsylvania Avenue.