‘Can You Hear Me?’ by The Hillbenders - enormously listenable and almost irresistible(May 27, 2014)
Sure, bluegrass is an acceptable description but to be fair in this case it misses the mark by a country mile. There’s overtones of rock, country and folk all poured into the capacious melting pot that is The Hillbenders, and their album ‘Can You Hear Me?’ lays out every aspect of that fusion. Unafraid to pull their influences from the depths of tradition or embellish them with whatever takes their fancy, the result is an album that’s enormously listenable and almost irresistible.
The 12 tracks (eight self-penned originals) on ‘Can You Hear Me?’ couple tight-as-drum harmonies and fast-as-lightning instrumentation, with the dynamism of intrinsic energy running throughout - this is roots with attitude. The drive behind that position is Nolan Lawrence (lead and harmony vocals, mandolin) Jim Rea (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) Gary Rea (bass, harmony vocals) Mark Cassidy (banjo) and Chad Graves (dobro, harmony vocals) – these boys clearly mean it and deliver it hard.
From the raw punch of ‘Train Whistle’ that opens, complete with its ‘whoo-whoo’ chorus, it’s a short step through their gutsy take on ‘Concrete Ribbon’ to the rocky-edged and searching ‘Radio’ and ‘Town Away’, complete with razor-sharp harmonies. There’s a blistering cover of ‘Talking in Your Sleep’ given extra punch with ripping guitar and visceral vocals, followed by the staggering musical dexterity of ‘Spinning in Circles’ – blistered fingers and red hot strings for certain. The power of‘Past The Point Of Rescue’ grabs you and refuses to let you sit still, while the laid back warmth of ‘Gettysburg’ is redolent of old rocking chairs, fine whisky and just chilling.
The HillBenders have something special going on with their genre-blending mix. ‘Can You Hear Me?’ releases in Europe June 1st 2014 and rumour has it we can expect a UK and Ireland tour in 2015.
Reviewers: Tom Franks and Tim Carroll