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Hillfolk Noir, Radio House

Album Review

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Local hillpeople Hillfolk Noir claim to be founders of "junkerdash," the band's take on distilling folk, country and rock 'n' roll into its particular brand of moonshine. The band combines washboard, harmonica, kazoo, snares, saws and all other manner of traditional instruments into organically produced mountain music. While members acknowledge you could just call it "indie folk," they say junkerdash has a nice ring to it.

On Hillfolk Noir Radio Hour, the band explores a time when tube radios were tops. But as a modern incarnation of a radio program, it's two parts O' Brother Where Art Thou? stage play, and two parts Tom Waits-style bar room banter. The album even includes interlude advertisements for made-up products like "Wild Root Cream Oil," which keeps one's hair looking spiffy.

"Down the Road" opens the album, with post-production effects like the whine of a wandering radio dial serving as the only intro into Travis Ward's impressive guitar picking. His singing on the chorus finds its mate in the voice of his wife, Alison, providing sugary backup vocals.

"Well I'm going down the road / to meet my mother's son / I'm comin' back a Monday with my daddy's gun," twangs Travis.

After the first chorus, harmonica fit for train-hopping chimes in. The track serves as a necessary primer for what the radio hour experiment encompasses. However, references to iPods and the ills of modern commercial music pop in to remind listeners it isn't 1920.

Along that vein, outlaw fiction and colorful storytelling fill out the 15-track release. "Ballad of Lonely Rounder" spins a yarn akin to the Beatles' "Ballad of Rocky Raccoon," a genre staple.

Much of the album adheres to this genre--the boot-stompin', finger-lickin', jug-blowin' milieu typified in folk country. At the same time, the album embraces the idea that American folk picking is about doing a lot with a little. The simple ingredients in the formula include pared-down instrumentals devoid of post-processing theatrics or on-stage distortion. The most sophisticated, nonorganic parts of the album include fake clapping, bird noises and crickets to flesh out the radio hour feel.

Hillfolk Noir's stylings may be throwbacks, but Radio Hour updates the genre with modern renditions of age-old stories.

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