3HATTRIO – Lord Of The Desert (own label)

Lord Of The DesertClose the windows, turn off background sound, put headphones on if you want, and just lose yourself in this album. Lord Of The Desert by 3hattrio was released in the UK on March 1st.

Good music changes what you feel or do and hearing this album has had me researching the desert country of the Zion National Park in Utah where the band are from. The music on the album is pulled from the traditions of those who went to the desert in the past few hundred years (rather than those of the native nomadic Americans). It’s music of a kind you’ve probably never heard before, linked back via cowboys to Europe, Africa, the biblical middle east (try the title track) – and of a hard haunting world which is none of these and entirely unique in itself, the deserts of Utah and the neighbouring Nevada and Arizona. Click on the video link below to see how it came about and to get a sense of the sound.

How to describe it, then? Prosaically, it’s a largely acoustic album predominantly based around violin, banjo and bass. But that’s a bit like saying Elton John albums are based on the piano; the last way you’d describe Lord Of The Desert is a prosaic album. Sit and listen closely and you’ll be repaid with something that captures a spirit, a feel – the sense of the uncompromising desert life and how men live with it as they deal with the awe it creates, the internal fears we have and from which we are sheltered by modern comforts. If you’ve ever walked, climbed, dived, sailed way beyond your comfort zone, you’ll know how you need to understand the places deep inside you to keep going. This is what Lord Of The Desert captures in its sound, not just the desert but its impact on man.

There is an insistent picked string sound behind many of the tracks, which is percussive as much as harmonic. On ‘Night Sky’, you hear a scary violin which must have been taught by a wild spirit, while percussion teeters on the edges of your conscious hearing as a rattlesnake sound. ‘Pilgrim’ echoes with lyrics of wide water, of a pilgrim by the riverside, angry men meeting angry men and streaking the river red, a crossing which doesn’t refer to any Greek legend but is haunted by a sense of the Styx and of man being part this world, part near death. ‘War’ has an echoing sound, already haunting but which then adds a repetitive cry in the background like the squeal of buzzards when they are looking for prey. Justifiably, 3hattrio refer to their sound as American Desert Music.

There are both instrumentals and songs on the album, but on the songs the vocals often make the lyrics deliberately indistinct; there’s a vocal intonation of old men in touch with an old world, rarely pushed far forward in the mix, giving priority not to the voice but to the overall feel of a track. Lord Of The Desert, then, is a soundscape which catches something elemental: the titles include ’Dust Devil’, ‘Faith’, ‘Pilgrim’, ‘War’, ‘Wastelands of Yesterday’ and so on. Tracks capture that feel of being out in the dark when you half hear sounds and they’re simultaneously very clear as they come through the night air to you – and very unclear as you’re not sure what the sound is and how safe you are.

To take a final couple of tracks: ‘I Am’ mixes instruments and vocal with perfect control, each holding the beat then taking the lead; similarly, ‘Skeleton Tree’ has banjo, violin and bass trading sounds with each holding the tune then taking it in turns to move into a different place before an echo-ey close. The trio consist of Eli Wrankle (new folk, classical and digital music), Hal Cannon (folklorist, songwriter and radio producer) and Greg Istock (experimental jazz and Caribbean music) and the sound they create is fused from their very different musical backgrounds and their sense of place.

How to describe it? Lord Of The Desert is an album created using modern technology but fully inhabited by the sense of the Utah desert that 3hattrio come from. It captures that half world where you can’t ignore the desert, you are part of the desert and part outside it. Filmmakers would use the music for scenes of great depth as its insistent rhythms match your heart beats as you go to the place where you fight against and then control your elemental fears.

These paragraphs are an attempt to give you a sense of a startlingly different album. By contrast, 3hattrio describe themselves on their website as “The subject matter of the songs is often desert oriented, sometimes not. Mostly, they express the desert experientially from a daily-ness of watching light off distant mesas and hearing the way sound plays off sheer sandstone cliffs. Then they play music. They don’t over-think it.” So, don’t over think it, give it a listen.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.3hattrio.com

‘Dust Devil’ – official video: