Jamie Hoover isn’t usually a name associated with bluegrass. For most of his career, he’s been somewhat akin to a power pop provocateur, having worked with Don Dixon, Marti Jones, the Spongetones, the Smithereens, Graham Parker, and other artists committed to a rock and roll regimen. Here, however, he leaps headfirst into grassicana realms, aided and abetted by Charlene and the Bluegrass Charlatans, a band that includes Johnny Tatum on guitar and vocals, Spence Hayden contributing keyboards and vocals, Ken Tatum sharing banjo and vocals, and Hoover himself singing and playing doghouse bass and mandolin.
For the record, there’s no one named Charlene to speak of, though the reference to Charlene Darling of Andy Griffith Show fame is made obvious by the album cover.
What inspired Hoover to cross-connect may be a matter of speculation, but given that he calls North Carolina home, this musical infusion ought to come as no surprise. While some might suspect that he’s planting tongue firmly in cheek in an effort to spark some satire, that assumption is instantly defused even after a cursory listen to She Don’t Never Fret, an adroit demonstration of the band’s form and finesse. The honky-tonk piano playing on Love Please Come Home, the ragtime revelry spun from an instrumental cover of Sweet Georgia Brown and the Avett Brothers-like emotionalism of Live and Die demonstrate the fact that they can occasionally venture a bit beyond the boundaries, but otherwise, it’s all about the picking and singing. That’s evident early on courtesy of such entries as Blackberry Blossom, If You Can’t Be Good, Be Gone, Freeborn Man, My Little Georgia Rose, and an earnest take on Peter Rowan’s Midnight Moonlight. Each offers indisputable evidence that these gentlemen are clearly committed to the cause.
Granted, bluegrass has become a genre of choice for many musicians, given its populist appeal and the obvious enthusiasm with which it’s rendered. Whether or not Hoover is ready to commit himself to a long-term engagement isn’t completely clear, but given this impressive debut, it’s obvious Charlene and the Bluegrass Charlatans are more than capable of living up to their handle. Suffice it to say, they’ve established themselves as powerhouse players straight from the start.