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The Hackensaw Boys

Charismo – 2016 (Free Dirt)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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In the halcyon days post-"O Brother," the explosion of hybrid bluegrass, old-time and string bands was inspiring; as musicians explored traditions, an abundance of oft-neglected musical history was revealed. Of these bands, the Hackensaw Boys distinguished themselves by instilling within their seemingly tossed-off contributions an awareness of the populist aspect of this type of music: it appeals to a wide cross-section of the population.

Propelled by the percussive forces of Brian Gorby's catch-all charismo kit featured on the cover, the Hackensaw Boys continue to showcase the unadorned levels of audio magic roots music can attain. Following a series of EPs and live releases, the Hackensaw Boys, still led by chief song basher David Sickmen, return with only their third full-length studio release since 2005.

It was once written that the Hackensaw Boys were "The Ramones mixed with the Carter Family," entirely ignoring Sara and Maybelle's influence on the first family of country music. A more apt description seems to be "five acoustic musicians who just don't give a damn about your genre constraints."

"Content Not Seeking Thrills (Ain't You)" has an incredible instrumental break mid-song, one that inspires head-banging of a bluegrass spirit - banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle create a dizzying tilt-a-whirl of sounds. Ferd Moyse's fiddle provides the foundation for the plum pitiful "Flora," yet another tale of unrequited infatuation with roots in the tradition of mountain song sharing.

Sometimes an Appalachian manifestation of The Pogues ("The Sweet"), other times harboring a caffeine-fuelled, late night litany of recrimination and failure ("Wolves Howling,") the Hackensaw Boys exist within that plane without fear of consequence ('You Want Me to Change").

Uncomplicated truths is really what "Charismo" delivers, never so acutely as their sympathetic testament of the Devil's influence, "Ol' Nick" - "You'll be my sinner, you'll be my saint, I love you for what you are, I love you for what you ain't."

Nicely packaged and recorded with Larry Campbell producing, "Charismo" is a convincing return for one of Americana's most unconventional outfits.