Mad Dragon Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/23/2012
Hoots & Hellmouth might be a sincere band, but the level of sincerity with which they play folk music in the old-fashioned way on Salt shows that the band’s devotion to this music is unbridled. This foursome from Philadelphia, PA will never be mistaken for anything other than urban indie hipsters. But the music they play on Salt, from start to finish, is nothing if not a period piece, from a time and place that couldn’t be any farther from present day Philadelphia. These guys might not be Pete Seeger singing protest songs, but they aren’t ashamed to aspire to do so.
The songs on this album are a trip through Americana with no detour. The band doesn’t try to flavor their music with other influences in the interest of creating a hybrid. This is unsullied folk. Almost the entirety of Salt is either devoid of drums or has the drumming reduced to soft brushes to match the softness of the songs, reinstating that this is a not a rock band playing folk music, but the real deal. Most of all, the percussion is left to the most organic medium of all: clapping, as done on “Lay Low” and “Being Borned Again.”
If there is no actual clapping, the songs rhythmically call upon clapping in a sort of communal participation of the audience. H&H isn’t a band that tries to create beautiful textures of invoking acoustic music for the audience to escape into. On the contrary, the band beckons the audience to be present in the moment and be a part of its music, be it in the form of clapping to the groove of the music or singing along, the facilitation of which is easy as there are plenty of gospel-tinged moments on Salt.
While H&H keeps up with their rootsiness, they don’t compromise on the album’s production. The songs themselves are meant to be played raw and in the most organic setting possible, but the production behind the album’s sound is pristine and sleek, to say the least. The peasantry of H&H isn’t fake, but these guys are city-slickers, and this shows in the sophistication with which they have dressed up and presented a bunch of simple, folksy songs meant for simple, folksy people.