Two men with two vocals and two instruments recording dry without overdubs. Bluegrass, classic country and hillbilly—a timeless American sound with influences ranging from Hank Williams and Merle Haggard to Townes Van Zandt and Gillian Welch. A down to earth, pastoral approach that is both comforting and inspiring, eschewing all the modern trappings of 21st century production and relying instead on words and melody to convey a story.
Welcome to the world of Hooverville. John Bemis and Greg Hanson are two young gents who believe that a song in the heart is all you need to make a connection. Lucky Rabbit’s Foot is the product of this belief and it justifies their dogged faith in their craft and the relevance of their musical expression. With an assortment of stringed instruments (guitars, fiddle, mandolin and Hawaiian slide guitar), Hooverville keeps things interesting and each song is clearly distinct.
The songs on Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, whilst covering a fairly wide range of issues and subjects, do not stray too far from Hooverville’s focus. That is, the roots of the American Midwest’s farming community. In the stories that Hooverville tell, the characters—whatever their circumstances—are surrounded by an environment that suggests a bucolic setting and this background is often alluded to as “home”. Let’s scrutinize some key illustrations of this point.
In the plaintive “Bended Knee”, the protagonist is struggling to cope with an immeasurable loss (”. . . I was weeping / Just to see that my love was no more with me”) but the setting is manifest, “There’s a cabin I built on the mountain / For heads to rest where all that timber was felled / For every nail I laid I ain’t discountin’ / The promises made never held.” Concise, poetic and evocative.
The matter-of-factly “Alston Lynn”, deals with revenge that inspires a murderous lust: “Alston Lynn let your grave lie cold / Six feet down under Danville soil / I laid you there in an April snow / May you burn in Hell while above the cold wind blows.” Yet again, the surrounding environment is never in doubt as the twist in the tale unfolds: ” I come in his cabin spittin’ carbine lead / When the bullet struck three inches from his head / He come up quick and he knocked me down / With that Barlow knife he aimed to put me in the ground / In those lonesome hills under bitter moon / I cried my Savior I’ll be comin’ soon / Then a shotgun blast from his wife did cry / It seems I weren’t the only one to want to see him die.” Riveting, folky and familiar.
In the sprightly “Red Clay Farm”, a travelling drifter tries to find the answer to his deepest, gnawing hunger: “Been on every road in every town / But a place to love I ain’t never found / Gotta find some peace, gonna settle down.” But when he finally comes to himself and realizes that there is no place like home he finds: “For ma and pa I’m back too late / Look to the East, I look to the West / But the red clay farm is laid to rest / On the red clay farm they’s laid to rest.” The sense of regret is palpable.
Suffice to say, these examples highlight the sheer quality evident on Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, songs that seem to originate from a different time and place with a humanity that never dates and never becomes irrelevant. Do not let the cliched assumptions about pure roots music get in the way of a truly enlightening experience.
// Notes from the Road
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