If there was an IBMA award for blue-collar bluegrass band, Hammertowne would easily win my vote. No fancy outfits, no frills, just straight ahead traditional bluegrass delivered with a high degree of consistency.
The latest evidence of Hammertowne’s craftsmanship is found on the band’s Mountain Fever Records release, Hillbilly Heroes. The title cut, written by bandmates Dave Carroll and Scott Tackett, serves as a homage to the greats of bluegrass, including but not limited to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, Reno and Smiley, and Jim and Jesse.
Really, though, the entire 12-song collection is a tribute to traditional bluegrass, from the subject matter – moonshine, miners, girls who got away, country boys out of place in the big city, death, sorrow and Jesus – to the tight harmonies and crisp, authoritative picking.
The first cut, Don’t Ever Cross A Moonshine Man, sets the tone for the CD. It’s one of six songs that Dave Carroll wrote or co-wrote, and from the opening notes of Brent Pack’s banjo to the first line – “Back in the hills of East Kentucky,” you’re on comfortable turf that the band doesn’t stray from.
There’s no filler here. Each song can stand on its own merits. But several stand out, demanding to be played again and again. In addition to the two songs already mentioned, my favorite cuts include Louisville Rambler, written by Jerry Dill and anchored by top-shelf fiddle work from guest Ron Stewart; the Del McCoury-authored I’m Lonely for My Only, with guest Gaven Largent on resophonic guitar; Rainy Old River Town by Evan Maynard; and a sad, sad take on loss, A Day in the Life of the One Left Behind.
Four of the five band regulars share lead vocal duties, resulting in a refreshing mix of sounds and phrasings. But the picking deserves special mention, too. One of the best things about this collection is that, with the exception of Stewart and Largent, the instruments are played by the band members, not an all-star cast of hired guns that lays down spectacular tracks that can’t be replicated in a live performance with regular pickers.
What you hear on Hillbilly Heroes is what you hear when you catch the band at a festival – smooth, consistent picking, fine harmonies and solidly written songs that are echoes of bluegrass’s rich past. This one is well worth adding to your music library.