[9 March 2008]
Hymns’ sophomore release Travel in Herds is a combination of classic Southern roots and West Coast rhythm. Utilizing horns, pedal steel guitar, and banjos galore, Hymns have created an album that updates traditional hillbilly twang to current Southern rock. There will be lots of Tom Petty and Jerry Garcia-esque comparisons with Hymns’ bluegrass instrumentation and laid-back charm, yet the overall result is something entirely all their own and very refreshing. Hymns don’t get trapped in any specific influence and do a well-dosed amount of dabbling in country, funk, and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. Always grounding themselves in their North Carolina and Texan roots, Hymns never stray far from their center and work together as an ensemble to produce something crisp, inspired, and exciting.
A major element that contributes to the album’s success is the cohesiveness within the music, the compositional elements giving, taking, and sharing at the appropriate times. Granted this has been in development since elementary school, where all four members were friends and bandmates but regardless of the back story, there is something mature and smart in the structure. The first single, “I Can’t Be What You Want”, has numerous parts, yet each individual melody is awarded its own space in the structure to make its voice heard. It begins with a funky chorus of brassy horns, followed with the guitar and lead vocals kicking in. Next, a second voice is unveiled, and then the banjo leads into the track’s chorus. The beauty in this showcasing is that it feels as if the members could jam out for 15 minutes and, against certain musical mindsets where solos are “taken”, here Hymns generously bow out and lovingly hand over the spotlight.
Travel in Herds suffers from very few road bumps and falls short in the slower tracks, such as “Train Song”. It seems as if the cowboy has been left all alone at the saloon with an empty whiskey bottle and the sun high overhead. With the pedal steel guitar playing a large role, the beginning is intriguing enough, but with time the track keeps with the same monotonous note and becomes dull. Where the album has so much momentum, it feels almost as if the tour bus pulled over and got lost in this tumbleweed moment. Another slight glitch would be when Hymns take the Tom Petty comparisons a little too far. “Blame It on the Mountain” sounds like the identical twin intro to Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and hits this parallel a little too close for comfort.
Regardless of these minor detours, the album still perseveres onwards and upwards. A record that screams the South and summertime, it serves as a great soundtrack for lazy summer days or escapist road trips. Music like this can lead the imagination anywhere, from high school nostalgia of romanticized field parties with dreamy upperclassmen to wishful daydreams of driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with windows down, sun burnt cheeks, and feet dangling out the passenger window. This record paints a collage of images and allows the listener to get lost in their thoughts with golden dreams of summers past and summers to come.