THE HILLBENDERS, “Can You Hear Me?” Compass Records. 12 tracks.
Critics use words like “raw,” “intense” and “high-energy” to describe The HillBenders, a Springfield, Mo.-based band that draws frequent comparisons to the early days of New Grass Revival.
The 4-year-old group describes its sound as “acoustic fusion.”
In the band’s press material, Chad Graves, the Dobro player, says, “Bluegrass is where we found our voice as performers, so we feel like we owe a lot to it. We have one foot in bluegrass all the time while the other is reaching out and exploring our interests in rock and roll, jazz, funk and Americana.”
Then, add to all that, Nolan Lawrence’s bluesy vocals.
That pretty much describes the band’s sound.
Their high-energy act won them first place in the Telluride Blugrass Band Competition in 2009 and the National Single Microphone Championship in 2010.
The trick was capturing that energy from the band’s live shows on a CD.
“Can You Hear Me?”, the band’s first album on the Compass label, does it well.
Eight of the songs are originals.
The other four include a grassed-up version of the Romantics‘ “Talking in Your Sleep” and Hal Ketchum’s “Past the Point of Rescue,” which went to No. 2 on the country charts in 1991. “Past the Point” features what the label calls “a samba-grass breakdown.”
“Gettysburg” is a somewhat dreamy Dobro-led instrumental. But everything else on the album is high-energy.
The themes, though, are as old as time.
“Broken Promises” tells the tale of a man who spent 25 years in prison taking the fall for others.
“Game Over” tells a woman she’d better find another lonely man because he’s had as much as he can stand.
“Train Whistle” is about traveling.
So is “Concrete Ribbon.”
And “Town Away” is about a man who thinks of settling down, but it’s always just a town away.
Good album by an up-and-coming band.
Can’t find it in stores? Try CompassRecords.com.