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The Tillers

Hand on the Plow – 2013 (Muddy Roots Music)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by The Tillers

Given the success of homespun combos like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and the Avett Brothers, bands with beards and banjo plucking are no longer simply thought of as backwoods bumpkins or old-timey troubadours. As a result, many an outfit that would otherwise be relegated to swampier realms while possessing marginal appeal now have an opportunity to bring their wares to the mainstream.... or at least to the more open minded patrons who inhabit that mainstream.

Not that The Tillers deliberately cater to commercial concerns. To the contrary, in fact. Their sound, as exemplified by the lively "Hand on the Plow," is imbued with a heartland sensibility that embraces loping, fiddle fueled rambles like Shanty Boat and Tecumseh on the Battlefield, as well the traditional stock and sway and mellow musings of the amiable Willy Dear. It's the kind of sound that lends itself well to campfire sing-alongs and down home designs. Happily though, their good-natured sentiments are never far from the foreground fir the Cincinnati band. The Road Neverending evokes the imagery of idyllic rural environs, while the unabashed bluegrass of 500 Miles shows that their reverence for heartland homilies comes from a place of honesty and authenticity. And in a field of crowded contenders, that ought to count for something, right?

Nevertheless, given that The Tillers don't deliberately dress for success - either literally or figuratively - it's their music and not necessarily their backwoods accoutrements which will inevitably determine the degree to which the band is embraced. Burley, bespeckled and prone to overalls and suspenders, The Tillers pin their image on a genuine allegiance to the sounds of the hinterlands. After all, when you tag your group as The Tillers, it's all too obvious you've spent some time behind the plow.