Hobart Brothers and Lil’ Sis: At Least We Have Each Other

[29 April 2012]

By Steve Horowitz

Working class heroes

The Hobart Brothers and Lil’ Sis are in reality a trio consisting of the masterful Austin rocker Jon Dee Graham, singer songwriter Freddy Johnston, and former Cowsills and Continental Drifters founder Susan Cowsill. Reportedly, the two men took the name Hobart because that was the brand of dishwasher used in the commercial restaurants where they once worked. As for “Lil’ Sis”, I guess it just made sense for the imaginary brothers to call their distaff band member by that designation. The irreverence and working class implications of the band’s moniker cleverly suggest what the songs on the album are like.

Graham, Johnston, and Cowsill might be known names, but their recordings have been hit and miss with the public. Graham in particular has written some of the best songs you may have never heard because they appeared on odd labels or unpromoted or life circumstances got in the way; however, his fame seems to stop at the Texas Border. Johnston and Cowsill might get some attention from the Americana or country rags and web sites. No one would consider them major stars. But the combination of the three create something much bigger and better than the sum of their parts. They have chemistry, that ephemeral and essential ingredient needed for a band to shine.

At Least We Have Each Other contains ten songs, seven from the band’s last studio sessions and three from an early set without a drummer. A download of the rest of the demos comes free with an LP, CD, or digital purchase. This means there are two recordings of almost every song.

The seven finished songs are the best. The music serves as evidence of the benefits of production, but all 19 tracks are exuberant and fun to hear. The three musicians wrote and took leads on the material. There are some excellent songs and performances by each of them. And when they work together, such as on “First Day on the Job”, the results rock the body and move the mind. They make you want to start your own band with the people with whom you work and just blow off the dreariness of everyday employment.

The songs range from serious (“All Things Being Equal”) to silly (“Sodapoptree”), and frequently do both in the same song as the trio understand the absurdity of contemporary life. So when Johnston pleads for his ex-girlfriend to pick him up at the gas station, he’s well aware of the irony of the situation. He walked out, but has nowhere to go and no way to get there. He may say,”“I Am Sorry”, as the song’s title indicates, but that is more a self-admission of his sorry-ass state as it is an apology.

Or when Graham explains, “Why I Don’t Hunt”, the need for small change and cheap thrills can be superseded by a conscious—even if it is only a half-dead blackbirds with which he’s concerned. He sees himself in a greasy carcass dying in the gutter. Graham takes the cliché of the hunter sickened by the death he has caused and turns it into a personal story through his power to deliver the experience. One feels what he felt.

One hopes The Hobart Brothers and Lil’ Sis stick around and make more records. Their debut disc is a winner, even if the band sings mostly about life’s losers. The trio benefit from having each other.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/157101-hobart-brothers-and-lil-sis-at-least-we-have-each-other/