Hamilton County Ramblers get it right, Skip Frontz & Co. get it scary
Hamilton County Ramblers
Hamilton County Ramblers
Hamilton County Ramblers is the debut, self-titled album by one of Chattanooga’s premier bluegrass ensembles, and it is a gem. With 11 tracks that run roughly 40 minutes, the band manages to cover some great old classics and some lesser-known traditional works as well.
If bluegrass music is the quintessential Appalachian music, then Hamilton County Ramblers is the quintessential bluegrass band, combining superb technical skill with heart and passion to produce some of the most enjoyable “down home” music I’ve heard in a very long time.
Thematically the album covers some familiar ground. Lost love and broken hearts abound in their sweetly sad rendition of “Cora’s Gone,” and “She Left Me Standing on the Mountain,” while the shoe appears to be on the other foot in the sprightly, “Wall Around Your Heart.”
Bill Monroe is the undisputed father of bluegrass music and the Scots/Irish roots of the style he created are clearly evident in the opening strains of “Separating Hearts.” “I Hear Ya Talkin’” takes a step in a different direction, exemplifying the best of Western Swing music.
It’s easy to think of bluegrass as instrumental music, and the players certainly showcase their ability on the traditional tune, “Old Chattanooga,” but then turn right around and make the point that bluegrass is just as much vocal music on their a capella rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times.” This particular arrangement, with warm, rich harmonies, is a standout track on an album that seems to be comprised entirely of standout tracks.
Josh Hixson, Roy Curry, James Kee, Jim Pankey and John Boulware are the Hamilton County Ramblers and their passion for and devotion to this fundamentally American style has resulted in a lovingly crafted compilation that belongs in the library of any lover of bluegrass, roots, Americana, or “Old Time” music.
The album is available through CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon and the Hamilton County Ramblers website.
Skip Frontz, Jr. and His Left Handed Luckies
Viper House Records
Skip Frontz, Jr., well known for his work with the critically lauded 9th Street Stompers, has a new project and a new album. Skip Frontz, Jr. and His Left Handed Luckies is the project, Vicetown is the album, and it is the musical equivalent of white lightning: homegrown, deceptively powerful and liable to make you scream, stomp and possibly run around naked.
The title track (scheduled for release as the first single) comes roaring out of the gate with a frenetic intensity that makes the Reverend Horton Heat look a little tame by comparison. Screaming horns, a classic rockabilly guitar and a drum beat that sounds like the drummer is half-man, half-machine gun, all set the stage for breathless lyrics describing a place where being bad is good and being worse is better. Welcome to Vicetown.
“12 Gauge Love Affair” is slated to be the B-Side release to “Vicetown” and the reason why is readily apparent. A slow, low-key, murder ballad, the tune is downright eerie. The lead instrument is a lap steel guitar but the effect is more like a theremin and when it weaves and winds its way through the heavy tremolo of the rhythm, the result is pure magic.
The imagery is wicked, spinning a tale of Ouija boards, possession, a grisly murder and a derelict old shack (and a relationship) “destined to fall” where a “12 gauge love affair painted the wall.” As near-perfect as the tune already is, it’s the haunting vocal of Samantha Brotherton (Sampire) that is the pièce de résistance.
This darkly themed single is appropriately scheduled for release on Halloween through skipfrontzjr.com, which should make for some gloriously hell-raising good fun that night.
The rest of the album will follow in December with eight additional tracks, including the crowd favorite “Axeman of New Orleans,” featuring the 9th Street Stompers and personal favorite, “Black Widow Stomp,” a foray into some truly raunchy, overdriven Tex-Mex boogie.