3hattrio hail from the deserts of southern Utah on the edge of Zion National Park and tell us this landscape, its traditions and contemporary life inspires their 'American desert music'.
On this album 'Lord Of The Desert' they 'mix the routine with the unusual, fusing American folk music with outsider elements like autotune, psychedelia and minimalism'.
3hattrio are Hal Cannon, guitar, banjo, vocals, Eli Wrankle, violin and Greg Istock, double bass, foot percussion and vocals. Recorded in Greg Istock's painting studio, he produced and arranged all the music here whilst Michael Greene did a final mix and James.S.Anderson mastered it at the Bit Farm. Finally, all the songs are originals written either individually or collectively within the band.
Opening track 'Dust Devil' comes in on a timeless banjo riff, foot percussion, bass, drones, weary vocal and fiddle that push and pull through an atmospheric two minutes fifty one seconds.
'Pilgrim' is similarly driven but with more electric, 60's type undertones whereas 'Night Sky' has a slightly slower pulse, very strong violin part and a vast, almost cinematic feel. It is one of those instrumental tracks that if you close your eyes it's impossible for the mind not to conjure up a dusty, desert vista.
'In Our Hands' is another riff led song sounding like early Fairport Convention of all things before a laconic vocal rids any thoughts of conventional folk music. I love the chanted refrain of 'Faith is in our hands' over sawing fiddle, great stuff!
'War' is back to an overtly cinematic feel that ushers in a staccato vocal; 'Faith' revisits the sparseness of the strong banjo lead and voice dominating proceedings, whilst 'I Am' enters on a U2 Joshua Tree 'Edge' style guitar part before opening up into something completely different.
And so it goes for the remainder of the album, each song offering something familiar to engage then throwing in a point of musical, lyrical or atmospheric departure to surprise and entertain. As with a lot of traditional English folk jigs and reels, many of the songs are built on the foundation of a simple, catchy, repeated riff or tune but here the points of departure are always into something much bigger than simple variations. Other highlights for me are 'Wastelands of Yesterday' which is perhaps the most straightforward vocal and instrumental track and put me in mind of the 'The Deep Dark Woods' Ryan Boldt's austere, dignified delivery and album closer 'Lord of the Desert' with its spoken, reverb drenched gravitas over vast washes of sound.
With 'Lord Of The Desert' 3hattrio have delivered a record that is very high on aspiration, imagination and vision but never at the expense of the listening experience. With a couple of wrong turns, it would have been easy for this to have ended up as the soundtrack to 'Life On Earth', a pleasing backdrop to striking images. However, it is never less than an arresting and engaging musical experience that at its most straightforward, simply adds up to a great selection of songs and performances.
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