Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hive Robbers. Rusted Earth

Hive Robbers.  Rusted Earth.
Self-produced.  2012.  Hive Robbers:

Americana.  I wish the hell I could figure out what it means.  Rock with twang?  Country with drums?  Folk electrified?  Or maybe it’s just an industry label that don’t mean a damn thing.  Oh, look, that was an Americana sentence.

The Hive Robbers have been together since 2010, when they were the Aidan Bailey Williams Band, but apparently they changed the name because of increased contributions from the other members of the group (just as well, since the first name was awkward).  This is the Kent band’s second full-length album.  They’ve been described as Americana and folk-rock, compared to the Decemberists, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Gram Parson, and Tom Waits.  That means they’re on their way up to some sort of Americana Nirvana, I guess.  Enough nonsense; let’s just take a listen to the album and go from there.  

Most of the songs are quite good with solid, steady beats, strong vocals (except for the instrumental, of course), and feature some fine solo work from the guitarists, mandolinist Dykes, and Williams on harmonica.  Songs run anywhere from 2:30 to 4:30 in time, so they tend towards the short side, with few extended solos and no jams.  Yes, the style runs somewhere in the ballpark of all the above-mentioned artists, but isn’t really exactly like any of them.  Some of the verses are a bit repetitive, and occasionally overused.  I suppose they’re doing it for emotional effect, or to act as hooks, and much of the time it works, but occasionally it makes me just want the song to end.  “Roll On” had that effect, but most of the others were fine.  The opening track, “Light Off,” does this as well, but there it leads to the right result.  What I find most curious about “Light Off” is that the lead singer (they have two but don’t identify who sings what) sounds a lot like the singer of the old classic, “Radar Love.”  “Fertile Ground” is an excellent track, a real star in the first half of the album.  The addition of mandolin gives the song a different feel than the first two, and the vocals are intense, reflecting the lyrical mood.  The other bright light of the first half is “Water in the Night,” another intense mid-tempo song that takes best advantage of the collective vocals of Williams and Dykes.  Great stuff.  On “Use to Be” the singers do some falsetto howling that’s pretty cool, and the harmonica breaks complement the song nicely.  

The second half of the album is more diverse.  “Rust” is an a cappella tune, done in a gospel style, and here, while the repetitive factor is strong, one expects it, so “it comes as no surprise” (from the lyrics).  The background singers repeat the lyrics in response, and it works very well.  “Bated Breath” is stylistically the opposite, an instrumental, and it a really fine tune, relying heavily on the mandolin.  I enjoyed both of these immensely.  “By the Docks” brings in the banjo, and rocks with a strong melody and great hooks, a highlight of the second half.  “White Dove” is also heavy on the banjo, but more rocking, and rivals “By the Docks” for my favorite.  The closer, “My Word,” finishes up with a bluesy intro, running into a high-octane, fast-paced burner.  An excellent end to a fine album.

In retrospect, I found the second part of the album to be the more enjoyable, however, I liked nearly everything, and look forward to hearing the next album from this excellent band. Look for them in concert near you.  

Personnel:  Aidan Bailey Williams (vocals, guitar, banjo, banjo, harmonica), Jimmy Dykes (guitar, vocals, mandolin), Meredith Yeager (bass), Sam Langstaff (percussion), with various and sundry folks providing backing vocals.
Tracks:  Light Off, Roll On, Fertile Ground, Used to Be, Second Start, Water in the Night, Rust, Bated Breath, By the Docks, Miss Arkansas, White Dove, My Word.

The Grand Wazoo

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