Not only is Stupid Mountain Too Big a great title, but it is also the first album in three years from the Virginia-based Hot Seats. Heavily influenced by the much rustified sounds of old-timey, shellac recordings, the original mission of this album was to conjure up the false sense of nostalgia created by those works, by dealing with the typical subjects of love, death, mountains and railroads and other such subject matter, prominent in old timey music. During the writing process, the plan changed somewhat and other elements were introduced to the mix, resulting in a collection of songs, which tell the broader story of human life…or as the Hot Seats describe it: “from procreation all the way to the inevitable realization of the inconsequential nature of existence”. The result? Two records merged together to form one 17 track monster album that is part concept and part traditional. Furthermore, rather than sub-divide the tracks into ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, both the traditional numbers and the original ‘concept’ pieces co-exist and make way for one another.
The album kicks off on the traditional side of things with ‘Ida Red’; a piece made famous in the late 1930s by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, although this rendition is more akin to a 1927 version recorded by Dykes Magic City Trio.
Following this is the first of the album’s ‘concept’ pieces; ‘Springtime’. Inspired by spotting shoals of gar fish in the Chickahominy River, in the east of Virginia, the song, in its post-winter setting, deals with what happens before life begins and the blissful ignorance of what lies ahead. Mirroring life, what quite literally, what lies ahead is ‘Bad Decisions’; an upbeat ode to humankind’s collectively poor decision making abilities. From here, the idea of ‘everyday life’ continues to flow in and out for the duration of the album; the catchy and clever ‘When You Were Young’ laments fleeting youth while ‘Compliance’ is a commentary on 21st Century living (done, of course, in an old-timey style). ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Life Story’ kind of do what they say on the tin while the lyrics and outlook of ‘Briney Foam’ manage to successfully combine grim, with weirdly uplifting:
“One of these days, you’re gonna go to sleep/ You’re not gonna wake up again
You’re gonna open your eyes and to your surprise / You’ll be free as a bird floating overhead
All of your friends will weep and mourn ‘bout where you’ve gone / Pretty soon they’ll be talkin’ like you never were born
And although your hair and teeth grow when you’re down below/ You can’t take nothing with you when you go.”
For the most part, the observations made by the Hot Seats are funny because they’re true, in the case of ‘Gun Crazy (In The USA)’ the fact that the observations are (albeit, a little exaggerated but) generally so spot on, makes the song quite sad. Essentially the song ironically suggests that the solution to all of life’s problems is to acquire a firearm; if your “Daughters always on the phone…Neighbour’s lawn is overgrown…Line up and get yourself a gun!”
Following this, is a borrowed fiddle-led instrumental, ‘Old Bunch Of Keys’, from the discography of turn-of-the-century Appalachian musician, Tommy Jarrell. In total, there are four instrumental tracks on the album: ‘Benny Martin Special #2’, ‘Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase’ and a lovely and lonesome banjo and yodelling trumpet arrangement of the Jimmie Rodgers staple ‘Miss The Mississippi’.
While it is a long album, there is so much to it that it doesn’t feel like a drag. Furthermore, it is a grower. Things which didn’t jump out initially begin to do so after a few listens, causing songs, lines and runs to get stuck in your head, prompting yet another listen of the record, where things take shape, make sense and generally just come together.
Christopher James Sheridan
Artists’ website: http://thehotseatsrva.com/
The Hot Seats live at Grateful Fred’s: