Hoots & Hellmouth Iota Cafe 12/23/10 – Arlington , VA
|IOTA Club & Cafe
2832 Wilson Blvd.
Philadelphia-based Hoots & Hellmouth (MAD Dragon Records) creates new music for old souls. Their second full-length effort, “The Holy Open Secret” (street date: June 2, 2009), continues to blaze a trail forward in the name of progressive revival. Rob Berliner, Andrew Gray and Sean Hoots return as the core trio of string slingers and harmonious vocalizers, co-producing in collaboration with Bill Moriarity (Dr. Dog, Man Man) at Philadelphia’s American Diamond studio. The results speak for themselves in tones ranging from the triumphant to the dulcet.
Blending the twisted roots of American music in a fierce and fiery alchemy, this ragtag bunch seeks a revival of spirit. Soulful three-part harmonies comingle with acoustic guitars, a mandolin, an upright bass and foot stomps building a synergy that bursts from both stage and speaker with aural aplomb. “It’s about bleeding, sweating, crying, rejoicing,” the band’s Sean Hoots says of their work. “It’s alive!”
The indescribable obviousness hinted at in the title is manifest throughout the long player. At once fresh and vibrant, yet somehow strangely familiar, the tunes cover a lot of ground both stylistically and lyrically while maintaining a central focus on song-craft. The opening salvo, “Root Of The Industry,” rips from the speakers with a sweaty, country gospel-soaked exhortation to all listeners to “gather up your axes and hack your way to the root of the industry.” Fast on its heels, “You And All Of Us” brings the party as it celebrates true community spirit in an almost N’awlins-style “second line” feel. “What Good Are Plowshares If We Use Them Like Swords?” keeps up the spritely pace while taking things a bit deeper lyrically, calling into question the motives of those who would use such widely espoused virtues as love, faith and freedom to further their own self-serving ends.
Elsewhere, softer yet no less earnest tracks such as “Ne’er Do Well” and “Dishpan Hands” balance the rollicking vibe, draping meditations on domesticity and heartache over gauzy frameworks of plucked banjo and ethereal organ. “Roll, Brandywine, Roll” serves as a gentle end piece to the album as it ponders the prospect of slipping into a river with no intention of exiting. The gurgle heard as the song fades in and trails off is the voice of the Brandywine River of Chester County, PA, expressing itself for those with the ears to hear.
With “The Holy Open Secret” the band also hopes to further unite their passion for music with an aim toward radical localism. Hoots & Hellmouth see every show as an opportunity to help strengthen a sense of local community among their audiences. Touring relentlessly both on their own and with friends (Dr. Dog, O’Death, Heartless Bastards, Langhorne Slim, Grace Potter etc.) since forming in 2005, the band’s unique style of acoustic mayhem provides a flexibility that allows them to perform in all manner of venues. From rock clubs to folk festivals, they racked up over 150 shows in 2008 alone, including Langerado, Wakarusa and the 47th Annual Philadelphia Folk Fest.
Each stop along the trail garners new converts for the band as word continues to spread of their undeniably compelling performances. In the words of Hoots, “this music is at once a celebration and a mourning – championing the human potential to feel deeply and come together as a unified whole, while bemoaning the fact that much in modern life seems to work against just that. We strive to provide catharsis for damaged 21st Century humans and their environs…this is new music for old souls.”