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.
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‘Bitter Frost’ – live: