HOTH BROTHERS – Workin’ And Dreamin’ (own label)

Workin' And Dreamin'Having already released his own solo album earlier this year, Bard Edrington V now returns in company with fellow songsmith Boris McCutcheon on a project spawned as they swapped musical ideas and stories while pruning fruit trees in a New Mexico apple orchard. Workin’ And Dreamin’ was recorded in just three days with Sarah Ferrell on upright bass and Greg Williams on drums and draws inspiration from the Appalachian tradition collected on a Harry Smith anthology as well as a novel about Kit Carson, it casts an eye back while taking a contemporary perspective.

It’s underpinned by two politically potent tracks directed at the current White House incumbent, opening with the banjo driven, gospel infused ‘Trees Of Heaven’ with, taking a cue from Jesus driving out the moneychangers, a call to arms to remove the blight that infects us, be that chopping down the Chinese elms, felling “the orange man” and, sending the “devil Pence back to hell” to “give our kids a fighting chance to win”. The other is ‘January’, a nod to the inauguration, as they declare it’s “time to cut the strings on Putin’s pawn” and that “we’re coming for you and your liver, orange man”. It also sports the nice line “you can cry or us a fake news river”.

Again featuring clawhammer banjo, the title track (although reversed on the song itself) continues the idea of turning your efforts to “build what you can, take care of your family” so as to “live your dreams, be what you want to be”.

Written by McCutcheon, ‘Singing Grass’ recalls the pioneers who built a life on the frontier sung in the voice of one such about the Native American woman he married, their life together trapping for pelts to trade and of the fever that eventually took her. There’s similar historical slant to ‘Whiskey And A Woodstove’, a stomping blues about mountain moonshiners while, McCutcheon blowing harp and echoing Erdington’s vocals, the jug band feel of ‘Flint Hills’ continues the theme of working the land to feed hungry mouths back home.

You’d never make it through life in the old west as a working man if you didn’t have a four-legged friend, celebrated here in McCutcheon’s shuffling rhythm folk blues ‘Horses Made Of Wind’ on which, at one point, he even gives an equine snort, that, Stephanie Hatfield on harmonies, is about going stir crazy from being cooped up. The title, incidentally, doesn’t refer to their speed, but rather their farting.

Staying in the same period, ‘Rendezvous Duel’ concerns a shoot-out during the Mexican-American War while, riding clawhammer rails, the New Mexico mesa is the setting for the simple traintime ‘Chili Line’ whistling through the pines. Switching musical styles, the collaboratively-penned ‘The Birds Still Sing’ opens unaccompanied before hitting handclap worksong rhythm about carrying on regardless of trials and tribulations (“give when you have nothing”) just like the birds sing even when they’re starving, offering the homespun wisdom that “sometimes you gotta go down to the basement where the spiders live to see what the angels sent”.

Returning to mandolin and banjo, with a picked acoustic solo, McCutcheon’s sprightly, Guthrie-esque ‘Bitter Frost’ is also a moral lesson to “protect the meek whatever the cost”. Moving into the final stretch, Ferrell on harmonies, the simple fingerpicked love song ‘Fault Line’, the bluesy slouch ‘Rogue Wave’, an Erdington co-write with Andy Keifer, and ‘Balancing Act’, another number about trying to reconcile late 60s America when “there was truth in the air” and “the songs still had soul”, with today, afford further highlights. Referencing the American West explorer John Wesley Powell, it ends with another co-write, all three voices coming together for ‘Wild Robby’, a mandolin strummed Mark Twain-like narrative about a bunch of Utah boys, running wild and raising hell, stealing Indian corn and turkey eggs, before “late spring by the whispering cave, Robby disappeared without a trace”.

Hoth comes with several meanings that have resonance here, among them an acronym for outreach charity Help On The Homefront. Personally, while it may be unlikely, I fancy it as a reference to the planet of snow and ice that serves as base to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, the guys in their musical X-wings taking arms against the Death Star on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mike Davies

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‘Bitter Frost’ – live:

BARD EDRINGTON V – Espadín (own label)

EspadínBorn in Alabama, raised in Tennessee and now based in New Mexico, Edrington brings together the variations within the musical cultures, as well as his work running a landscaping business with wife and backing singer Zoe Wilcox, on Espadín, his first solo venture, that charts his family’s journey from the high ridges of Tennessee to a Mexican coastal fishing village by way of Santa Fe, as well as other travellers’ tales, rooted in the people and the flora and fauna along the way.

It opens with ‘Maidenhair’, a fingerpicked folksy number embellished with fiddle and, banjo, the title referring to the green, silky leaves growing along the steel walls of the Slickhorn Canyon in Utah through which the Jan Juan river runs as he sings of “the greens of our dreams”.

‘Eyes On The Road’ revs up the engine for a clattering, harmonica wailing slab of dirty rockabilly before things calm down on the circling fingerpicked patterns of Riverside Blues (“working like a man with nothing to lose”) that features Boris McCutcheon on mandolin and rattling background percussion from Michel Chavez.

Mariachi trumpet backdrops the dusty waltzing ‘Take Three Breaths’ recount a journey he and a friend took down the Camino Real, 1500 miles from Santa Fe to Chacala, a fishing village in Nayarit, by way of their truck being sideswiped in Sonora, paying bribes in Mazatlan (to a cop after being pulled over for not wearing a seat belt) and visiting the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sinaloa. Arriving in Oaxaca, the title track tells of the mezcalero who distil the titular wild agave into mescal, Edrington conjuring Van Zandt and Clarke while Karina Wilson paints the track with cello, viola and fiddle.

It’s back to delta blues for the shuffling brushed snares of ‘Mississippi Flows’ with David Barclay Gomez on accordion, the rhythm riding the rails on Two Ways To Die’ as, lost in the desert, Wilson’s fiddle is given its head and Freddy Lopez takes things out on harmonica wail.

The focus shifts to the stories of those who also looked to bridge the two worlds, ‘Painted Pony’ a simply strummed swayalong cowboy campfire tune (albeit with music box piano accompaniment), throaty electric guitar riffery underpinning ‘Mango Tree’, a bluesy rock celebration of the Mexican climate, while ‘Gold And Black Mare’, a hanging song about horse stealing, a fatally demanding lover and murder, melds traditional folk and Southern Gothic blues.

Arguably, the album’s two strongest tracks are those that are stripped right back, the acoustic blues ‘Spread My Wings’ featuring just his guitar and Lopez’s harmonica solo while ‘Rendezvous Duel’ heads into Appalachian territory with Wilson’s fiddle and Edrington’s banjo, sung in the voice of legendary frontiersman Kit Carson as he returns to his wife to swap stories. And there it stays for the final number, ‘Southern Belle’ with its handclap rhythm, accordion, banjo and Sarah Ferrell providing the harmony vocals, a Civil War story of a wounded Union soldier being cared for by a Confederate woman.

A Bard is, of course, a celebrated professional storyteller, a poet, a travelling minstrel. His folks named him well.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.bardedrington.com

‘Espadín’ – live: