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Hillfolk Noir

Pop Songs for Elk – 2015 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Hillfolk Noir

The Boise, Idaho-based trio Hillfolk Noir live up to their band name by addressing some dark themes with occasionally spooky musical arrangements, but not so much the title of their latest album as there is no mention of elk in this mix of folk, old time country and blues with a touch of psychedelic rock.

Frontman Travis Ward (guitar, suitcase, harmonica) is the primary vocalist and songwriter with support from wife Alison Ward (banjo, musical saw, washboard) and Mike Waite (double bass). Some tracks deal with people down on their luck, as with the old time country tune "Round I Sing/Mile On Up" ("Woke up in jail and I was alone, both eyes were black and my wallet was gone") and the bluesy "Hard Times" ("Woke up this morning had a hole in my fence/That don't matter I ain't got ten cents").

There is some dark humor with the opening "North Idaho Zombie Rag" ("If you're important well it don't matter anymore/Because soon you'll be nothin' at all"), as well as the folksy "Getting Late" ("The junky is a liar, the Mayor smokes crack/He'll waltz across the floor and stab you in the back"). The closing "Sniffing Glue Blues" begins as traditional sounding country blues before effectively transitioning into psychedelia.

Perhaps the strongest track is "My Train," the lone composition and lead vocal from Alison Ward that finds a dying mother giving words of comfort to her loved ones ("Don't you cry for me, 'cause I'm not crying/Don't you miss me, 'cause I'm not gone"). Other highlights are the folk ballad "Poor Man's Love Song" and the traditional country blues tune "Little Red Caboose."

With strong performances, solid tunes and a stylistic approach that Hillfolk Noir dubs "junkerdash," this is a thoroughly entertaining collection.