3HATTRIO – Live At Zion (Okehdokee Records)

Live At Zion3hattrio release Live At Zion in November. What do you get if three musicians find themselves living in the desert but have arrived there with very different musical pedigrees – a classically trained violinist, someone who has thirty years of playing in the Caribbean and someone steeped in cowboy music? You get this. The band call it American Desert Music – and for a music that captures something elemental and on the edges of our consciousness, that’s not a bad description.

Eighteen months ago, I came across 3hattrio as a result of getting their last studio album, Lord Of  The Desert, to review: https://folking.com/3hattrio-lord-of-the-desert-own-label/. I found it to be stunning, one of my albums of the year for 2018. Essentially the three band members, Greg Istock, Eli Wrankle and Hal Cannon, are creating this unique sound with just double bass, violin, banjo – on occasion, guitar and vocals. But, I’ve wondered…….what do they sound like live?

The band have recently been on tour in the UK and I went to see them. They’re good. There are no smoke and mirrors, the sound you hear on the album is the sound they create live. I overheard someone in the audience say, “You couldn’t describe this as a particular type of music, could you?” It is that unique, American Desert Music capturing a sense of an older world and how it impacts on our psyche.

Live At Zion, then, is exactly what its title says – a live album which was recorded (in a pre-Civil War church) in a hamlet at the mouth of Zion Canyon in front of neighbours, friends and fans. The band invite you to listen to the album as a desert symphony rising out of their home. There is a mixture of new and previously recorded music on the album. Its November release date is to coincide with the centenary of the establishment of the Zion National Park in Utah, USA.

The album also captures the band’s stage craft. Have a listen to the last third of ‘Texas Traveler’ where you get an interplay between vocal and violin, simultaneously moving to sound like a small animal squeaking in the desert and creating something humorous for the audience. The track then turns into participation – the audience first clapping in time, then joining in with the vocal and then being completely unable to join in Istock’s rapid, animalistic, ancient human, vocalisation. It’s all done very nicely live and you can hear it well on this album.

The video below, with a Tom Russell voiceover, gives the background to how the band were formed, snatches of the music and a sense of how good it sounds live – even (about half way through the film) when played in what looks like a fully lit library.

I saw the band in a concert hall, with decent sound system. All pretty good – though the music did make me wonder if it would sound even better if the lights were turned off and the music was coming eerily from a darkened, desert-night-like, stage. As they say in the video “the music – it’s so not what these instruments get together and play”, which is why it’s worth seeing 3hattrio live just as much as it’s worth listening to the albums.

Live At Zion captures the unique experience of this band. Not an album to be played as background music, though. Take time to immerse yourself in the music and world it creates. They quote the lord of the desert in ‘Desert Triptych’ “I write these words and they paint the desert sands”. Even more than the words, the music of 3hattrio also paints the desert sands – a big, timeless landscape with elements of what Ted Hughes called “the dream/Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed”.

Mike Wistow

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

‘Texas Traveler’ – live and official:

‘In The Desert’ documentary:

In the Desert with 3hattrio from Kukaloris on Vimeo.