This past weekend I decided to head downtown and check out an annual happening in my city, Larkfest. Larkfest is a culimation and mishmash of various street vendors, artists, and live music. In addition, it also sprinkles (or dumps) a large helping of obnoxious drunk college students who change the tone later in the day to something truly worth avoiding, especially if you have young children in tow. Regardless, if you show up early enough it’s actually a worthwhile event; I always enjoy catching some of the random and obscure live musical acts that range from Alternative, Rock-a-billy, Emo-Folk, and Bluegrass, there’s a little of something for everyone.
While strollering my 4 year-old around and my teenage Chinese exchange student we checked out the random ethnic food samplings, tatooed cuties, and a variety of hipster artisans selling t-shirts , cupcakes, and graffitti artwork. At one piont I passed a tent sponsored by a local radio station where the guy gave me a look and panned down at the plethora of scattered CD’s. It was truly a “come hither stare for free stuff”, and he was very cool about taking as much as I wanted. The offering of free music was of bands I had never heard of and he knew that; jokingly he said “Yeah, I guess you just have to judge the music by the cover art and take a risk” and he was right. It was like being offered a mystery free candy yet being unsure you really wanted to find out what it tasted like. Plus, for most of us, avoiding anything that adds to our physical music collections we do at all costs, especially mystery music. Regardless, I could not resist and grabbed two albums not wanting to pass up the opportunity for some fresh fodder to review and also not offend the guy offering free music.
I grabbed two albums, one was Jenny Dee and The Deelinqents (to be reviewed later this month), and a band called Hoots and Hellmouth out of Philadelphia, PA. As with most albums you put in your CD player the first impression is rarely an “oh my god!” moment, and well, this wasn’t one of them either. However, the band does have something going on in the right direction and I feel they may be one to watch in the future. The album that I grabbed seems to be more of a sampler rather than a full fledged album and I wanted hear more. I could find the album on Amazon and it to0 indicated this album was only 4 tracks; this contrasts in comparision to their two prior albums which featured around 10 tracks each; so perhaps it’s just a stripped down album to buy some time. For what it is worth, it’s a solid sampling of their music and is catchy.
The band has the feel of something between a faster paced version of Dolorean and The Kingsbury Manx; with a twist of Ray Lamontagne without the raspy grit, and a wee bit of Old Crow Medicine Show and some Chatham County Line thrown in for good measure. Basically, they have a kind of down home sultry folk / country type of sound that appears to making a come back in the underground alternative scene. While I do like what they are creating for themselves, I’m not sure I’m a fan from the first listen. It can be truly be said that this band is an “acquired” sound that not everyone is into from the get go; like Iron and Wine’s sound or the late Elliot Smith’s music, some people pass it off as too mellow or sleepy tending to form automatic opinion’s about its worth or longevity as a something worthwhile to add to a collection. I think it would be fair to say that Hoots and Hellmouth has a quality sound and feel that is not worth passing up, it’s worth giving a few listens and then forming your own educated decision. Unlike the meloncoly sounds of Smith and Iron and Wine; Hoots and Hellmouth are far livelier and faster paced, definitely some “feel good” music, yet campy.
In closing, I think I would like to hear more about what these guys have put out there and also would be curious if any of our readers have seen these guys live. Being from Philly myself, I’m partial to liking these guys and giving them a chance. As always, let us know what you think of this band if you have caught a show, or perhaps send us an opinion on the two prior albums and how they measure up to this release.
Hoots and Hellmouth’s 4-track Face First In The Dirt gets a 3 out of 5.