One expects nifty musicianship from the long-time Bozeman band, The Hooligans. We are not disappointed, especially since it’s a live recording.
The debut album from this polished ensemble features core members together since the ’90s: Tom Garnsey, guitars/vocals, Rich Robiscoe, bass, Betsy Wise, vocals, Ron Craighead, drums/vocals, and Bob Britten, electric guitar/vocals. Recent additions include co-producer and Little Feat alum Bill Payne on keys/synthesizer and vocals, and Tom Murphy on mandolin and vocals.
The band is joined by guests Jimmy Lange, keyboards /synthesizer and vocals, and recording artists Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Spencer Bohren on lap steel, and English reggae singer Pato Banton. Throw in terrific sound production by Grammy-winning engineer Cornell “Doc” Wiley and mastering by multiple Grammy-holder Gavin Lurssen, and you have a product with quite the pedigree.
Band members share authorship amidst a sprinkling of traditional tunes, the genres covering rock, blues, reggae, folk – you name it. Lots of story songs are woven into interesting melodies with wisps of the Atlanta Sound, suffused with that southern ambience.
Let’s get going with a blues number, the Garnsey/ Payne “If I Had a Mind To.” The duo’s swamp-rock “Devil in Your Smile” boasts a swooping lead vocal by Payne and quivering, smooth lap steel from Bohren.
The traditional Appalachian chestnut, “Katy Cruel,” is plunked into the bayou and given a sensual and mysterious treatment. With Garnsey taking lead vocal, it sports a cool rhythmic hook and boatloads of soulful licks – squiggly Britten guitar, crisp, rock-steady percussion and bass, moody mando, silky fiddle, and a soaring, stutter-step accordion by Payne on synth. Wow!
“7th Daughter,” which marries Payne’s melody to lyrics by blues great Robert Hunter, rocks in with New Orleans-esque piano-pounding and a slippery guitar break. The reggae tune “Topsy Turvy World” features Betsy Wise on lead vocal, accompanied by Banton and Tom’s daughter, Alison; and Britten sings lead on his own “Mr. Tight,” adding guitar licks and trading breaks with Garnsey.
Garnsey’s “Shoot the Moon” is country-rock and moody, with terrific group harmonies, a hallmark of the recording. It’s got atmosphere like a James Lee Burke novel. How’s “laughing crazy like some finger-poppin’ toy” grab you?
Richard Thompson’s quiet and wistful love song, “Beeswing,” ends the album. “As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay, you wouldn’t want me any other way,” sings our protagonist. We hear a chorus of lush background ooh-oohs, a light rim-tap, sweet mandolin, and soft piano chords … a soft ending to a masterful album.
Visit the group at www.hooligans.com for more information.
– Mariss McTucker