Darker the Night
Produced by: In Music We Trust Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Alex Steninger has offered up some interesting musicians over the years, but never one so unique as Hillstomp. Consisting of Henry Christian on guitar and John Johnson on buckets (thatís right, buckets), with the occasional help of Phillip Gutman or David Lipkind on harmonica, Hillstomp is a Portland, Oregon duo specializing in what they call junkbox blues. Armed with instruments like the slide guitar, banjo, buckets, cans and barbeque lids, Hillstomp has previously recorded two well-received albums, The Woman that Ended the World and One Word. Alex gave me the opportunity to review their latest album, Darker the Night and I have to say, I can understand the growing fanfare for this band.
The music found in Darker the Night can be best described as a mix of punkabilly blues and country honky tonk. The album starts off with some rather interesting percussion and echoing vocals in the track Hammer Ring, letting you know that this is no ordinary album. What follows are some truly fun musical tracks featuring rollicking banjos, harmonicas, percussion and even a braying hound dog (found in the track Blue Tick).
The vocals are just what you would expect to find on a country album, featuring a smooth twang to go along with tales of murder, poverty, pain and more. My only issue with the vocals is when the lead singer uses something to modulate his voice. I can understand the desire to make the music sound somewhat vintage using this method, but it alters the voice sometimes beyond understanding. The truth of the matter is, the tracks without the modulated vocals are much better.
My particular favorites are the ones featuring banjos at the forefront, including the purely instrumental Blue Tick, Banjo Song #1, Banjo Song #2, Old Plank Road and the rather disturbing Cold Dark Woods. But my ultimate favorite is Crawdad Hole which features some beautiful country guitar and lyrics so catchy (sung in the Froggy Went A Courtiní style) I found myself singing along.
Darker the Night is an album unlike anything I have heard before. Sure, I have listened to rockabilly, punkabilly, country and blues, but the music found on this album is such a unique blend of all of these styles that it stands out. I love being introduced to bands with a unique style and approach to music. I canít wait to hear more from Hillstomp, a band I just know is going places in the country circuit!