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Bentley’s Bandstand: Adam Hood, Otis Taylor, Ha Ha Tonka

Posted By Karen Young On June 28, 2009 @ 10:26 pm In Arts & Culture,Music | 1 Comment

billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Adam Hood, Different Groove
Saguaro Road Records

images-7Everyone needs a second chance. Especially someone as inspired as Adam Hood. He originally released this album in 2007, and though it gathered fair notice in some circles, unfortunately it slipped out of sight far too quickly–through no fault of its own. The Alabama man is dipped in the goods, his voice suitably sun-baked and small-town cured. It sounds like he’s been hanging out behind the barn, and when that got boring he headed for the wrong side of the tracks and found just what he was looking for right where a good singer needs to spend serious time. There is no way to learn this kind of singing. It needs to be born into you, and from there a whole series of happy accidents needs to happen for the musical results to turn out right. For Adam Hood, they did. Producer Pete Anderson came across Hood in a bar below the Mason-Dixon line and took him into a Southern California studio to capture this Southern magic. The vocals zoom straight to the heart, and the session players are such pros there is not a wasted note or feeling to be found on the whole album. Songs like “22 Days Too Long,” “Late Night Diner” and “Whole Town Talking” portray an America we can all be proud of, hard knocks and all. And for this new edition of Different Groove, three acoustic versions are included, to show even stripped-down, Adam Hood is a long-haul talent, and getting started again is his good fortune and ours as well. This man needs to be heard no matter how many times it takes.

Otis Taylor, Pentatonic Wars And Love Songs
Telarc Records

images-6Otis Taylor will throw a curve ball just to see where it goes. Sometimes it ends up right where he wants it, confusing the batter but causing everyone to smile in wonder at the skill of it all. Taylor’s last album was based around the banjo, and while in a pinch he might be described as a bluesman, there is no way he’s going to sit comfortably with that definition. For Pentatonic Wars And Love Songs, the multi-talented musician pulls out several special pitches, mixing up the sounds so all the listener can do is shake their head at Taylor’s winning temerity. He digs down into his family history for songs like “Silver Dollar on My Head” and “Mama’s Best Friend,” using a voice that seems to come from beyond a valley of mist and words that respect mystery as much as literal meaning. It is in those times that his blues open up like an old screen door onto a backyard valley of sunshine and rain. There is no way any simple definition will do to describe what Otis Taylor does. Hell, he probably couldn’t describe it either. But needless to say, there is some serious mojo working here, as musicians like Jason Moran, Gary Moore, Ron Miles and others throw in to create a collage of striking emotions, some so strong like “I’m Not Mysterious” that they can make the skin crawl and cats shriek. This is an album to approach with all preconceptions checked at the coatroom. There isn’t anything to really compare it to, which is a gift these days, and for those who are looking to be surprised and slightly shocked, step right up. Otis Taylor might be writing what he loosely calls love songs, but he is also letting us in on the fire next time.

Ha Ha Tonka, Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South
Bloodshot Records

images-8130It can’t be easy being a band that gets lumped into the wide net of Americana music these days. It’s like being an alternative band in the early ’90s. That definition was so wide as to be almost meaningless. But Ha Ha Tonka twist their sound into enough novel contortions that they really don’t fall anywhere but into a unique category of their own. It is an emotionally raw world they travel in, with guitars scraping the bottom of the whiskey barrel, and a rhythm section pushing hard and hitting strong. The lives they write about aren’t really hard luck stories, but more like the tales of people living just beyond the edge of hope, but close enough to hold onto the ledge without falling off. If they were to make a movie to fit this music, they’d hire Warren Oates to play the lead if he were still alive, and L.Q. Jones to be the not-so-threatening bad guy. It would be set around Springfield, Missouri, where Ha Ha Tonka is from, and Strother Martin would direct. And “Walking on the Devil’s Backbone” would have to be the title song, while “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart” would play over the end credits. Brett Anderson, Lennon Bone, Lucas Long and Brian Roberts (each sounding like the name of an actor) play like a band of brothers. You can tell it from the first song “Pendergrast Machine.” They have a way of starting off with a timidity that is quickly blown to bits in the name of dynamic range. One song ends with the line, “No good deed goes unpunished around here,” and it’s that fatalism seated way down in the heart that gives this album its soul. There isn’t a happy ending waiting when Novel Sounds Of The Noveau South is over, but rather a hard-won acceptance that life is filled with tough times tempered by soft love, and a balancing of the two is the only way out. Ha Ha Tonka isn’t laughing, but their tears of rage aren’t about to drown them either. Big thanks for small gifts.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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