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Tag: celia woodsmith

Girls Guns and Glory Bravely Tackle a Bunch of Hank Williams Classics

Why on earth would you want to do a whole album of Hank Williams covers? What could you possibly add to those iconic songs that could be better than the originals? OK, maybe you could completely reinvent them like Bryin Dall and Derek Rush did on their absolutely chilling Deconstructing Hank, transposing everything into a minor key and adding a layer of sepulchral atmospherics on top.

Or you could rip the hell out of them like George Thorogood did back when he was actually good. Girls Guns and Glory bravely tackle the challenge of amping up the songs while hanging onto a retro sensibility on their new album of Hank covers, most of which is streaming online. And it’s a rousing and improbable success. The Boston band recorded it on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at hometown venue the Lizard Lounge in tribute to the last two shows he never got to play (he died in the back of that white Cadillac on January 1, 1953). The four-piece group – frontman Ward Hayden on guitar, Chris Hersch on lead guitar and banjo, Paul Dilley on bass and piano and Josh Kiggans on drums – are currently on East Coast tour, and would almost assuredly be making at stop at Rodeo Bar if it was still open. This time around they’ll be at the big room at the Rockwood on Feb 26 at 8 PM – kind of sad to see how the Rodeo scene has been dispersed, hasn’t it?

Most of the songs are pretty obvious choices, and they’re more bittersweet than sad. Hersch is the star of the show here: he spices Moanin’ the Blues with a nimble Chuck Berry-style solo as Hayden alternates between a high lonesome wail and a more exuberant bar-band delivery. Likewise, Hersch’s keening slide work soars over fiddler Jason Anick’s spare, oldschool lines on Hey Good Lookin. And an unexpected rampage down the fretboard steals the show from Miss Tess and Della Mae‘s Celia Woodsmith, who add exuberant harmonies on an otherwise straight-ahead take of Move It on Over. They do the same a bit later, on My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.

The two Americana songstresses also lend their voices to a steady, wistful take of Your Cheatin’ Heart, then the band gives So Lonesome I Could Cry an almost stalking, swaying, suspenseful groove. Honkytonk Blues is yet another showcase for Hersch’s uncanny ability to impersonate a pedal steel.

Rockin’ Chair Money is an unexpected choice, and a good one: the hypnotic, jangly, resonant sway absolutely nails Hank’s understated desperation. Anick’s wild spiraling on I Saw the Light is arguably the album’s most exhilarating moment. There’s also a more-or-less obligatory version of Jambalaya; a liquored-up take of Dear John where everybody gamely takes a turn on vocals despite there being no mic in back with the drums; and a stark, vividly elegaic bonus version of Old Log Train with Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese on bass.

Della Mae Write Their Own Bluegrass and Oldtime Folk Standards

With their purist chops, lively interplay, lush four-part vocal harmonies and original songwriting that blends the best of decades of oldtime bluegrass and Americana, Della Mae represent everything that’s good about newgrass. Many of the songs on their latest album This World Oft Can Be bring to mind the similarly purist all-female Americana trio, Red Molly. The whole thing is streaming at youtube.

It opens with the upbeat, bouncy Letter from Down the Road, frontwoman Celia Woodsmith’s soaring vocals and Kimber Ludiker’s incisive, tersely direct fiddle front and center – as she does on most of the tracks here, Ludiker stays mostly in the resonant low to midrange of her instrument. The second track, Maybelline (rhymes with “behind,” more or less) picks up the pace with a bit of a Britfolk tinge, Jenni Lyn Gardner’s spiky mandolin and another impactful fiddle solo. Empire takes a turn in a considerably darker direction, a grimly detailed, John Prine-ish portrait of a decaying rust belt town.

Hounds of Heaven sets an apprehensive Nashville gothic mood that never rises: although the old sailor in the tale insists that it’s not his time to go, by the time the third verse kicks in, he’s thinking about drowning. The aphoristic Ain’t No Ash has the feel of an Appalachian classic, with some richly mingling tradeoffs between Ludiker and guitarist Courtney Hartman’s nimble flatpicking as it winds out:

Love is a precious thing, I’m told
Burns just like West Virginia coal
But when the fire dies down, it’s cold
There ain’t no ash will burn

The most chilling number here is Heaven’s Gate, a bitterly ghostly tale that begins with the fiddle mimicking the ominous low resonance of a steel guitar, then eventually goes doublespeed. Is this about a suicide, a murder, or both? Either way, it’s a great story.

Turtle Dove kicks off as a reel and then hits a brisk bluegrass rhythm, with nimbly flatpicked guitar and handoffs to the other instruments down the line – with its sad, symbolic bird imagery, it’s a dead ringer for a classic folk song from the 1820s. A swaying oldschool-style bluegrass tune, Pine Tree explores a vividly rustic southern milieu, lit up by yet another purposeful, emphatic fiddle solo. The band follows that with a slowly waltzing, rather atmospheric ballad, Like Bones.

This World has a brooding, hypnotic Britfolk quality that finally lifts a little as the chorus turns around, a metaphorically-loaded narrative of the perils of growing old…but there’s light at the end of this tunnel. The slow, lingering final track, Some Roads Lead On sounds a lot like the old folk standard Wild Mountain Thyme, but without the syncopation. With just two guitars and some absolutely gorgeous lead and harmony vocals, it evokes Hungrytown at their most bucolic, a good way to end this eclectically original and disarmingly charming album. The band will be on spring tour starting on February 22 at NEU Hall in Chicago.