In the right hands, there’s something infectiously exciting about old-time stringband music—and that something is encapsulated in the opening track from The Hackensaw Boys’ Look Out. “Look Out Dog, Slow Down Train” has a punk-rock spirit—complete with shouted choruses—and its driving fiddles, rolling banjo, and thoroughly-slapped bass are performed with breakneck instrumental tenacity. The band follows that tune with the mid-tempo “Oh, Girl”. Its ridiculously catchy refrain highlights another distinguishing feature of oldtime music: the ability of simple, straightforward songs to pack a hearty punch. One could easily imagine the chorus from “Radio” blaring through a low-fi, one-speaker wooden radio from a bygone era, with the family gathered around, singing along: “talk about the radio / sing the only songs you know/ you can feel it in your very soul / when you listen to the radio”. With the exception of the swinging and jazzy “Too Much Time”, the latter half of Look Out loses strength. Nevertheless, these eleven original songs and one cover—an awesomely ragged version of trad tune “Gospel Plow”—showcase a band that has matured after five previous releases over its seven-year existence. Admire the Crooked Jades or Old Crow Medicine Show? The Hackensaw Boys are akin to a rough-hewn former and less-ambitious, but equally irreverent, latter. Look Out won’t disappoint you, or any fan of spirited oldtime music.
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