Monster concept: Hackensaw Boys bust out old-time music

The Hackensaw Boys self-titled album is boisterous to every kind of ear.

The Hackensaw Boys (named for their hacking and sawing at their instruments) formed in rural Virginia in 1999 with a simple game plan: Sing and play boisterous old-time music anywhere, and for any type of audience. The plan worked. Disparate game-changers such as hip-hoppers De La Soul, classic rockers Cheap Trick, and country music legend Charlie Louvin took notice, even accompanying the Hackensaws on tours (they can forever revel in the honor of serving as Louvin’s backing band). This album, their self-titled eighth, defines them. Wild experiences, coupled with musical dexterity and lyrical attitude and composure, beam throughout these 11 acoustic-rooted songs, their tarnish gleefully accentuated.

Led from the start by singer, songwriter and guitarist David Sickmen, the Hackensaw Boys today (there’ve been some 30 members) features Sickmen with fiddler/singer Caleb Powers, bassist Chris Stevens and singer/percussionist Jonah Gillespie-Sickmen. They display the unity and passion of blood brothers, dispatching messages of virtue that to them, seem obvious. Off a quick strum of an acoustic guitar, their jig “Things We Are Doing” opens the album by celebrating togetherness and optimism amid the sorry disappointment of our country’s present, and past. How are we doing this to each other, and why, Sickmen seems to ask in his prickly voice. Well, the how part of that could be answered next, with the facetious, high-spirited “Mary Shelley,” a Scottish-like dance number in a rock skirt, the premise being that the “Frankenstein” author created a monster that became a blueprint for evil and absurdity. The Hackensaws go to town in it, hacking and sawing zealously.

The full heft of “The Weights” strikes next, a cacophony that proves intoxicating. Old time music gets thrown against the wall, Powers flying especially high with ideally low-down, screeching licks. “Cages We Are Grown In” follows, galloping on a Western beat, the dichotomy between the kind of feeling that elicits with the horrific subject at hand, arresting. Each of these songs flows effortlessly into the next without fail. The easy folk of “Old New Mexico,” the tough hoedown “Strangers,” and the foreboding “All I Really Want to Do,” belong together. The continuity that exists between bluegrass, country, original American roots rockers like The Band, and on to the punk of the Pogues from across the pond, becomes naturally clear in these fine new songs by The Hackensaw Boys. Sit on a porch and take in a view. Reflect on things. The Hackensaw Boys album provides the ideal soundtrack for that, and for more than a little butt shaking to boot.

– Tom Clarke

The Hackensaw Boys
‘The Hackensaw Boys’
Release: June 24, 2022

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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