MUSIC REVIEW: Walk on the wild side with bare bones of bluegrass

Hillfolk Noir are, from left, Travis Ward, double bassist Mike Waite and multi-instrumentalist Alison Ward.

Hillfolk Noir are, from left, Travis Ward, double bassist Mike Waite and multi-instrumentalist Alison Ward.

0
Have your say

Just over three weeks before indie-folk threesome Hillfolk Noir arrived in Spalding from the wilds of Idaho, USA, this reviewer was introduced to the legacy of Hank Williams.

Just over three weeks before indie-folk threesome Hillfolk Noir arrived in Spalding from the wilds of Idaho, USA, in July, this reviewer was introduced to the legacy of Hank Williams.

His tragic death on New Year’s Day 1953, while on his way to a concert, laid the foundations for successors from Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell to Garth Brooks and Leann Rimes.

Hillfolk Noir, lead singer Travis Ward, wife Alison Ward and double bassist Mike Waite, are just one of many incarnations of what Williams gave birth to which has become known as “hillbilly” bluegrass.

Before the concert, Travis said: “We definitely didn’t pick an artist to model in a conscious way, but Hank Williams is one of the characters who played and wrote so many amazing songs that have a real, genuine sound.”

Alison added: “Our writing and the content of our songs has very modern themes, but even when we get our hillbilly tunes going we’re not really hillbilly.

What we’re doing doesn’t really meet the criteria of the traditional bluegrass genre, so Travis coined the phrase ‘junkerdash’ which represents more of an emotion and an attitude of what we’re doing

Alison Ward, Hillfolk Noir, Boise, idaho

“We just want to be ourselves.”

The Idaho trio gave their South Holland audience on Friday a rodeo ride through the most stripped-down, raw naked, bare-chested display of American music possibly ever inflicted on a Lincolnshire audience.

Songs with titles like North Idaho Zombie Rag, Sniffing Glue Blues and The Great Grizzly Bear Scare, all played on instruments as diverse as a washboard, musical saw and banjo, confirmed Hillfolk Noir’s billing as “an incandescent car crash of blues, medicine show sensibilities, country and rock ‘n’ roll”, according to BBC music presenter Mary Ann Kennedy.

Travis said: “Alison and I have been married for 17 years and Mike has been playing with us for ten years.

“We’ve always lived in the same city in Idaho (Boise) where Alison and I met in a bar.

“There were a couple of clubs there that always hosted music that was off-kilter and not in the mainstream.

“We all frequented it and that was probably the common connection with our love for alternative music and artists.”

Alison said: “What we’re doing doesn’t really meet the criteria of the bluegrass genre.

“We planned to be a bluegrass band, but the ‘bluegrass police’ were commenting on us, so Travis coined the phrase ‘junkerdash’ that represents more of an emotion and an attitude of what we’re doing.

“It’s the music we’re trying to play without putting it in some sort of pre-fixed genre, so we made up our own.”

Hillfolk Noir have earned rave reviews from the likes of legendary TV and radio music presenter “Whispering” Bob Harris, who described the band as “amazing” and BBC Radio Scotland host Ricky Ross who simply said “I love this”.

About the state of Idaho itself, Mike said: “It’s not a very populated state, it’s really big but there aren’t a lot of people there.

“There are lots of big mountains and thick forests, wilderness and desert, as well as a river that runs through it.”

Alison added: “But the heartbeat of Idaho are the wild rivers, whether that’s providing the water for agriculture or where kayakers like to go.

“It’s incredible that we talk a lot in the (United) States about the British music coming over.

“But I didn’t realise how much American music was influencing things over here.”

Hillfolk Noir went on a breakneck speed-setting three-week tour across England and Scotland whose audiences experienced a sound “brewed from folk, bluegrass and string-band blues”, according to the South Holland Centre publicity machine.

Travis said: “A lot of old-time music and bluegrass music came from over here and made their way across the ocean to the mountains on the East Coast and Appalachian mountains.

“Then they made their way to the West Coast, where we heard it, and then came all the way back across the ocean again.

“But how different they are from the originals I don’t know.

“There are a lot of the songs that we play are, if not watered-down versions of the songs from here, the writing has been influenced by them.”

But about their own music, Alison said: “I’d want people to think that they’ve tasted some sort of different water, whether that means they get to know us a little bit around the edges as we’re playing our funny instruments or just in the music itself.

“It’s not traditional in the sense that we’re not a traditional-sounding string band playing music in a traditional-string band fashion.”

All hail Junkerdash blues.

Review by Winston Brown