REVIEW FROM: Mike Morrison at American Roots UK (www.americanrootsuk.com)
2012 ‚Äď Self¬† Released
Based in Montreal, Canada, this¬†incredible ‚ÄėHillbilly‚Äô band are unlike anything else you are ever likely to¬†hear, partly due to the blend of instruments on which the beautiful sound of an¬†accordion has just as big a part to play as banjo and guitar, but also thanks to¬†the vocals! Lead vocalist Speedy Johnson‚Äôs voice gives a whole new meaning to¬†the word ‚Äėgravelly,‚Äô with ‚Äėwhiskey soaked,‚Äô ‚ÄėTom Waitsian,‚Äô¬†¬†and any number of other descriptions being just as inadequate, although¬†Waits is probably the nearest, but only if he was playing a strange eerie kind¬†of hillbilly music!
The band consists of Speedy Johnson on¬†vocals, guitar and harmonica, Bartleby J. Budde, guitar, lap steel, banjo and¬†backing vocals, Kevin Labchuk, accordion, backing vocals, Chris Byrne, bass and¬†backing vocals and Max Outerbridge on drums. Their instrumentation is sufficient¬†to ensure they don‚Äôt sound much like anyone else I can think of, but Johnsons¬†vocals rubber stamp that uniqueness, although even he has a slightly softer side¬†on a couple of near ballads! Having said that if you are a songwriter who wants¬†to offer them any of your material, ‚Äėcrooning‚Äôis probably not his strong point!¬†There is a huge amount of driving power from those battered vocal chords that¬†when combined with the bands instrumentation and all round abilities gives these¬†already excellent songs a further lift.
This is their second recording and it is actually a better album than their nearly as good debut, giving the lie to‚Äėthat¬†difficult second album‚Äô syndrome.¬†There are two traditional songs, with¬†the remainder of the songwriting being five songs by Johnson, three by Budde and¬†two co-writes between the pair.¬†Whiskey¬†Stomp,¬†penned by Johnson, gets¬†the album underway with a lovely, mellow easy going banjo introduction, then in¬†comes those vocals on a beautiful sparse song that has a feeling incredibly¬†evocative of the mountains, but those vocals give it an atmosphere that few if¬†any can match. This is followed by the mid tempo In¬†the Eye of the Moonshine,¬†also written by Johnson, with a lovely accordion¬†backing as a contrast to speedy‚Äôs vocals, on a song that says depite being the¬†hurricane season we always have our ‚Äėmoonshine‚Äô to ease the pain. It‚Äôs a really¬†strong tale about losing a neighbor to the storm and evokes the heat, sentiments¬†and unsettling air that must have been felt by those in the story.¬†This is followed by Budde‚Äôs extraordinary American Civil War story and song from which the album takes it‚Äôs title, Underneath the Old Red Barn.¬†It has a strange eerie sound with guitar, bass drum, accordion and those harshly atmospheric vocals on an incredibly sad haunting tale of a man forsaken by his lover for a soldier and their eventual return and¬† burial!¬† The traditional¬†Coo¬†Coo¬†is a tremendous interpretation of this sinister old as the hills song¬†that the originators would certainly have appreciated. The lovely haunting¬†accordion is kept in the background throughout, adding to the edgy atmosphere.¬†Won‚Äôt Get Drunk No More, is an¬†excellent version of a song made famous by Uncle Dave Macon as ‚ÄėWay down the old¬†plank road.‚Äô It is fairly true to the original and just as entertaining, although actually¬†containing¬†more fire and aggression!¬†Twisted¬†Road¬†starts with a nice easy¬†going guitar, banjo and accordion which are then joined by Speedy‚Äôs vocals on a¬†tale that is as close to a love song as those vocals will allow and tells a¬†story on which the teller vows to give up on his self indulgent life style for¬†the love of his woman! Every song repays a study of the lyrics with other¬†excellent tales including¬†She done gone¬†to the Devil,¬†on which the teller tries to reclaim his lover from the evil¬†beast and album closer¬†Big Fat mama¬†is a really strong blues song with excellent driving guitar accompanied as¬†usual by the accordion!
Whilst some may find Johnson‚Äôs incredible¬†¬†vocals a¬†little ‘difficult to take’¬† the album should be given a chance for the atmosphere¬†they create and for the excellent instrumentation and playing. There is also, of course,¬†the tremendously well written songs that often¬†tell¬†darkly epic tales within¬†a generic field that has enough scope for quite a few more¬†raw and hugely entertaining albums of this¬†quality.