This week I'm reviewing an album of "Americana Music" by local Martinez band The Hopeful Romantics titled "Tales of Romance, Death and Intrigue."
Everyone has their own thoughts about what Americana music is. In order to simplify things let's look at the definition posted over at Wikipedia, which in my opinion is as good as anyone else's:
WIKI LINK DEFINITION
(Americana is an amalgam of roots musics formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, rhythm & blues, rock & roll and other external influential styles. Americana is popularly referred to, especially in print, as alternative country, alt-country or sometimes alt.country.)
What the. . . !?! Pretty much sounds like whatever you want to throw in the pot is okay and we can call the result Americana. Now that we have a clear definition of this mysterious genre let's look at the first release from Martinez's The Hopeful Romantics – "Tales of Romance, Death and Intrigue."
Like the title suggests, this is a collection of songs that in many cases are more like little stories than your standard pop chart fare. The material is performed using traditional or "real" instruments – acoustic guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, stand-up bass and human voices that are not overly processed through the dreaded "auto tune" devices making them sound like off-world creatures. The collection is a mix of Hopeful Romantics-penned originals and their interpretations of several other songwriters, both familiar and obscure.
The songs in most cases feature haunting pedal steel guitars, intertwined with mandolin and guitar passages wrapped around simple clean rhythms and multi-voiced harmonies. Influences from all variety of musical "genres" can be heard throughout the collection. The instrumentals often follow a common melody line or theme with each instrumental stepping in the spotlight for a few featured measures, something common to many collaborative musical genres.
Fans of the film "Brother Where Art Thou" will immediately feel comfortable and likely enjoy the familiarity of opening track "Best If You Don't Come Around Here No More" – which though the title may imply otherwise struck me really as a love song with a twist.
Another Stand out track, "Johnnie Lee Miller," opens with a simple yet powerful guitar lick that immediately grabs your attention, followed with a mandolin and pedal steel counter punch that is joined by a haunting harmonica before the first words are even sung. In my opinion this is really the most narrative song of the collection, a tale of abuse and murder – that musically grabs you before you even realize the subject matter – it's just so damn catchy. The story is laid out before you and it also features harmony vocals that at times reminded me of Sandy Denny's work on Led Zeppelins 4th release - obviously this is a personal favorite on this collection.
Closing the collection is the regular Hopeful Romantics show closer and guaranteed audience participation number "Wagon Wheel" - given it's origins I can't think of a more appropriate song for this group to cover – started by Bob Dylan then completed by members of the Old Crow Medicine Show it is a true blend of musical influences – like the genre implies.
Being the stubborn opinionated and often snarky reviewer I seem to be I need to add I also think rating systems are subjective and unbalanced, so instead of some random rating by someone you don't know I recommend you judge for yourself - the collection true to it's "genre" is a melting pot of influences and those looking for something off the beaten track will likely find at least several tracks they will fall in love with.
The Hopeful Romantics will be having a CD release show Sunday December 12 at Armando's in Martinez, come on down and see for yourself what its all about.
The Hopeful Romantics are: Hope Savage (vocals and guitar); Danny White (vocals, guitar and harmonica); Steve Barry (guitar and harmonies); Brian Walker (vocals, guitar, mandolin); Bruce Campbell (vocals and standup bass); Curtis Dickover (percussion and harmonies); Jeff MacDonald (pedal steel guitar).