If memory serves, I first stumbled across Hoots & Hellmouth at a show — Why was I there? Who was I with? — four years ago at Off Broadway. The band was clearly following the lead of the Avett Brothers — mangy, loud, old-time music with a vulnerable heart — but I liked the way the two (apparently) songwriters contrasted light and dark, introspection and resentment, while the band as a whole wielded their acoustic instruments with bluesy grace and crazed stomps, from the parlor to the pit.
The band has a new full-length album called “Salt,” due out in April on the sonaBLAST! label. It was recorded in their hometown of Philadelphia with Jon Low (Dr. Dog, Sharon Van Etten, Twin Sister). The first single is called “Why Would You Not Want to Go There.”
The song lights out, on soft noise and unsteady strums:
I’ve built such a fanciful kingdom in my head
You say you don’t, you won’t go there
Why would you not want to go there?
The answer unfolds in the drama of the song; the beautiful world of a good songwriter’s imagination is one shaky step away from terrible delusion. Still, why wouldn’t you want to sing along?
“Why Would You Not Want to Go There” – Hoots & Hellmouth
Charlie Parr is a Duluth-based country blues musician, a juxtaposition of location and genre which is only surprising if you haven’t heard of Bob Dylan.
At the deepest core of Dylan’s music, in all its peregrinations, is, quite simply, the blues, especially the country blues, a point Dylan punctuated with his two mid-’90s albums “Good as I Been to You” and “World Gone Wrong.”
Charlie Parr’s career, which goes back to the early 2000s, has always stayed close to the howling, hieratic vernacular of Furry Lewis, Son House, the Mississippi Sheiks, Dock Boggs and Dave Van Ronk. Greg Brown, another Midwestern, contemporary country blues-based musician, has sung Parr’s praises.
Just listen to Parr’s take on “Gospel Plow” and you’ll hear why.
Recorded in a baptist church in St. Paul, Parr’s new album is “Keep Your Hands on the Plow,” and features the talents of fellow Minnesotans Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (of Low), among others. It’s hard-scrabble, joyous and profound — the way country blues should be.
You can catch Charlie Parr, live in St. Louis, at Off Broadway for a 7:30 p.m. seated show on Thursday, February 2.
“Gospel Plow” – Charlie Parr
With the not quite over-night success of tUnE-yArDs, it appears that the immediate forecast calls for more chopped and drizzled rhythms, the clink and clatter and whirring whiz bang of more-is-always-never-enough lo-fi sample upon sample. Who needs tunes and songs and singing and stories and stuff when you can just throw a kitchen sink of grime-step at the indie wall and see what sticks?
I would go on but a new song by young Australian songwriter Grace Woodroofe won’t let me. It’s called “Battles,” and it hails from her debut album “Always Want” released today on Modular Recordings. You might guess from the way her smokey, lonely alto breathes over spooky wind chimes that she’s a femme fatale with a generous prescription of benzodiazepines, or at least that she can play one in this dark little movie of a song.
Then in come the skittering jazz rhythms, the bitter guitar figures, the scary ennui of lines like “I tell my daughter I’m method acting.” The singer in the song is trapped in a poisonous, alienated spiral. She never thought she’d turn out to be a middle-aged waitress. And she probably never thought she’d be singing about it so strangely and beautifully.