The Henhouse Prowlers are an unpretentious bunch, one wholly devoted to the bluegrass basics, but also determined to deliver it with their own sense of passion and purpose. Formed just over 16 years ago, they’ve pursued their musical mantra courtesy of international tours undertaken under the auspices of the US State Department and their own nonprofit organization known, appropriately, as Bluegrass Ambassadors.
Education and entertainment find equal footing in their ongoing musical mission, courtesy of workshops and the shared commonality they express while incorporating indigenous sounds into their own traditional tapestry when performing abroad.
Members Ben Wright (vocals, banjo), Jon Goldfine (vocals, bass), Chris Dollar (vocals, guitar), Jake Howard (vocals mandolin), and guests Becky Buller and Laura Orshaw (twin fiddle on the song Subscription to Loneliness) make that clear yet again on Lead and Iron, their most recent release. It’s also one of their best.
That’s easily apparent on the two songs that sandwich the set — opening track Home For and album closer, My Little Flower. Each provides a robust expression of the band’s enthusiasm and intent. Likewise, the astute instrumental Wobbly Dog conveys that certain drive and determination through passionate picking and playing alone. Heartache and happenstance come to the fore on Subscription To Loneliness, courtesy of a tale of lifelong romance derailed by a cheating spouse. So too, the somewhat downcast, Forgotten Gravestones, echoes thoughts for those that have passed, while Died Before Their Time conveys similar sentiments without coming across as moribund or melancholy.
Passenger Train Boogie resuscitates the album’s otherwise merry mood with an upbeat traveling tune that draws on archival influences. Rolling Wheels shares a sound that’s a bit more considered, but still flush with the same desire and intensity. The fact that all eleven of the album’s entries were written by members of the band testifies to the Prowlers’ prowess, dexterity, and dynamism.
Ultimately then, Lead and Iron is as solid as its weighty handle implies. Here again, The Henhouse Prowlers make it clear they still have plenty of reason to ramble.