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Hot Buttered Rum

Lonesome Panoramic – 2018 (Self-released)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Hot Buttered Rum

It's 95 hot sweaty humid degrees, and we're thinking about Hot Buttered Rum (HBR). In any case, you need refreshing, breezy music in moments like these, and this band does not disappoint. The Bay Area-based band decided to self-produce their sixth album for which much of the inspiration is drawn from local landmarks and favorite places. "Lonesome Panoramic," takes its name from the recording studio, Panoramic House Studio in Stinson Beach, Cal. along the Panoramic Highway. It's one of the roads that multi-instrumentalist Erik Yates (mainly 5-string banjo, also resonator and acoustic guitars) grew up driving, with its majestic access to the ocean, mountains and woods.

Yates is one of the two lead vocalists and songwriters; the other being guitarist Nat Keefe. They combine for 13 original songs with support from Brian Home on upright bass, fiddler and harmony vocalist Zebulon Bowles and drummer/percussionist/ mandolinist James Stafford. Like many of today's more contemporary acoustic string bands, HBR straddles bluegrass, folk, rock and country, stopping just short of jam band type music. Most songs are in the two-to-four minute range, excepting "The One That Everyone Knows" at eight minutes.

The album begins with a pair of short bluegrass tunes, employing their traditional lineup of guitar, fiddle, banjo, bass and Stafford on mandolin. "You Can Tell" was written by Yates, inspired by walking one of the East Bay's many trails, and "Sittin' Here Alone" was penned by Keefe about the time he built himself a cabin the woods. Drums enter for a more rocking tune, "Country Tunes & Love Songs," where the band gets writing and harmony contribution from Kellen and Jamie Coffis (of The Coffis Brothers). Yates plays Dobro here as well as on "Treasure Island Blues." "How Short the Song" is rendered in trio format with peaceful string arrangements, reflecting the solace of Oakland's Lake Merritt.

"The Spirits Still Come" is rather solemn tune about Keefe's aunt passing away, with The Rainbow Girls (Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey, Vanessa May} adding the haunting voices to accent Keefe's lyrics. It's hardly all serious fare, however as "Mighty Fine' and the brisk "Never Got Married" are straight up bluegrass and just plain fun. "Sleeping Giants" and the more intricate "The One That Everybody Knows" burn more slowly. The closer, "The Deep End" was written with old friends ALO, who add Dan Lebowitz's electric guitar and Zach Gill's keys along with their voices, to this theme song for a festival both bands co-host called Camp Deep End.

Stellar musicianship and sturdy vocals help an album centered mostly on songs. Several threads and layers run through the music, embellishing the carefully crafted material.