[23 March 2006]
Hailing from the foothills of North Carolina (The South, US of A), I’ve always been self-conscious about my mountain accent, my twangy rural drawl. Part of me says that I should work harder at trying to hide it. Hooverville would disagree.
There’s lots of twang, lots of proudly sung twang, on their second release Follow That Trail of Dust Back Home. While I’ve often worried that both my accent and modern attempts at roots/country music are out of fashion, this album provides a succinct counter-argument. Hooverville aren’t concerned with hiding their roots, their accent, or their source of their inspiration. In fact, the album is a celebration of Our Southern Home.
Hooverville’s 2000 debut was a well-written, largely soft-spoken, acoustic affair. Follow That Trail expands the palette of their sound, and reverberates with the best roots music from the South. Some esteemed hometown friends were brought in to help, including Chris Stamey to mix and James Mathus to record and produce. It is certainly the addition of Mathus—who has traded in his Squirrel Nut Zippers jacket and tie for a swamp-bluesman’s fedora in more recent years—that solidified this record’s electric and blues elements. There’s many a juke joint in Memphis where “Honey” could get the crowd movin’. Other songs on this record would make the Carter Family proud, RL Burnside shimmy, and Hank Williams raise his glass. And Bill Monroe would certainly love the high-harmony, straight-ahead bluegrass homage to his homeland, “Oh, Kentucky!” It is so impassioned, such a tribute to the Bluegrass State, you’d be surprised that Hooverville hail from North Carolina.
The album is a conversation with the past, where the old archetypes of Southern music are aptly resurrected. Opener “Carrying This Heartache” has all the lovesick blues of a pre-CMT Grand Ol’ Opry ovation-getter, and a Mississippi ghost haunts the clawhammer banjo-driven “Jefferson Davis Blues”. “Dirt Road” captures the wistfulness of hanging on to the old ways: “I ache when I see it, this old town with just one street / Got a highway out the other end, and our dirt road’s buried beneath concrete”. Meanwhile, the jaunty barroom piano of “Not Forgotten” belies the song’s serious subject matter—the loss of a grandfather to lung cancer. These are tracks that survey the trials and tribulations of tobacco and booze, comfort and heartbreak, love and regret.
This ain’t city music. This is country music from the South—blues, roots, old-time, bluegrass. There’s nothing too fancy here, no neon lights, no busy highways. The record takes its time, accentuating every syllable and listening closely to the old sounds. The album’s directive—Follow That Trail of Dust Back Home—comes from “Blue Sedan,” a steel-guitar enriched tune that also features the refrain “Take me back/ Take me back . . .”. Hooverville followed their own advice in crafting this album. Recording in an old farmhouse, the band used 1950s-era ribbon microphones and equipment to capture its instruments—acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, piano, harmonica, and accordion. There are three voices and three songwriters within Hooverville, which creates lots of opportunities for some good ol’ harmony singing.
Last time I was home I visited the mother of a friend at her hairdressing salon. She shared with me the advice relayed to her by a recent customer from “up north”: “Honey, that lady said I should keep on talkin’ the way I do, that it just might be a dying language, since everybody nowadays don’t want to talk like me . . .”. Come to think of it, that Northerner might have had it wrong. Our Southern accents ain’t dying; they—like the music on Follow That Trail—are alive and well. I’ll proudly drawl: I reckon y’all will like this’un.