Of all the places you might find a band that incorporates banjos, plastic buckets, spoons and washboards, Portland, Ore., probably isn’t near the top of the list. And yet, that’s where you’ll find Hillstomp, an Americana rock duo that takes Appalachian bluegrass, North Mississippi blues and the ghost of Carl Perkins and blends them all together in a high-octane tour through Americana. If you caught them opening for Reverend Horton Heat at the Knitting Factory on July 30, I need say no more.
Fortunately for those who missed the show, they don’t save the stomp just for their incendiary live shows. Their latest disc, Darker the Night, is fresh off the presses, and contains enough string work to satisfy blues and bluegrass purists, while cranking the subwoofer hard enough to crack the cones if you’re not careful. Nearly half the songs on the disc are covers, either of traditional songs or from artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, but none of them sound dated. Between Henry Kammerer’s fluid picking and John Johnson’s high-on-rhythm percussion attack, each track pops with energy and sheer virtuosic joy.
There’s not a weak song on the disc. Period. But a couple of songs do stand out, even in a field of greats. “S.I.R.” comes closest to flat-out rock, trading out in the banjo and cigar box guitar for a howling electric guitar. R.L. Burnside’s “Jumper on the Line” gets an oddly sprightly turn, while the gents clearly had a good time with the “won’t get drunk no more” chorus of “Old Plank Road.” Of course, if all you want is fast-paced blues with a monster thump, “Banjo Song #2” and “Cardiac Arrest in D” will do the trick. Good for parties and driving fast, Hillstomp is the real deal.