...and 1/2 ... neofolk traditionalists w/ a knack for unders
J. Ross | Roseburg, OR USA | 05/06/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Playing Time - 52:56
SONGS - Rake and Rambling Blade, Weary Day, Old Black Coat, Road Agent's Lament, Georgia Buck, Callin' Like the Wild Things Do, Billy Taylor, Blackberry Rag, Peg & Awl, East Virginia Blues, Crooked Jack - Tarbolton Reel, Last Hill Before Home, Somewhere Down The Road, Hobo's Lullaby
Also known as The Growling Old Men, guitarist John Lowell and mandolinist Ben Winship recorded "Occupational Hazards" over the course of three weekends at Ben's own backyard studio affectionately called The Henhouse. They noticed that many of their songs had to do with occupations (or avocations) often fraught with risks. Realizing that "peril makes for good song fodder," this thematic set of traditional and original folkish fare features two-part harmonies backed by mandolin and guitar. Lean settings lend an immediacy to the story songs, whether they be a cover from the Delmore Brothers ("Weary Day"), Lowell's wistful "Road Agent's Lament," or Winship's affable "Old Black Coat" and "Last Hill Before Home." Their roots-based and raw-boned folk music makes for a compelling set that emphasizes plaintive story songs. John wrote "Road Agent's Lament" a number of years ago. He's an avid student of old west history so many of his songs touch on that theme.
Playing bluegrass together in the band Kane's River for several years has allowed them to understand each other's muse and vision, but this isn't bluegrass. No banjo and fiddle here. However, these neofolk traditionalists have a knack for understanding and harnessing the heart and sentiment of the American musical spirit. I especially enjoyed the precise imagery that the duo can create with only 14 strings and two voices. Their straightforward stories or simple declarations about life and work are interweaved with some country blues (Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Callin' Like the Wild Things Do"), Celtic flavors ("Billy Taylor" and "Crooked Jack"), a lullaby ("Hobo's Lullaby"), and rootsy picking ("Blackberry Rag"). All in all, the songs have a seductive and relaxed charm, and the two troubadours bring out their soulful beauty.
Winship and Lowell sing with smooth, leisurely phrasing. They pick with precision and carefree excitement. Their rendition of "East Virginia Blues" may be one of the most mellow and restful versions I've ever heard. In a handful of tunes, Winship's octave mandolin imparts an evocative mood. Some trivia about Ben is that he took second place in the 1989 National Mandolin Championships in Winfield, Ks. As one small suggestion for some enhancement on "Occupational Hazards," it might have been nice for him to pick some of that old-time banjo that he can do so well. And, some trivia about John Lowell from Montana is that he's worked with the bands, Wheel Hoss, Deep River and Loose Ties before joining up with Kane's River.
Although John Lowell's "Somewhere Down the Road" is a new tune about returning home, it's the same kind of vivid and resonant music that folks have made for generations on their front porches. The song came out of a particularly fun tour with Kane's River, and John clearly conveys that traveling around and playing music with friends is a good thing. A nice thing about two masters playing stripped-down arrangements is that it gives listeners a set full of understatement, thought, and intimacy. Winship's Snake River Records label also distributes the albums of Loose Ties (that Ben played with from 1986-96) and his celebrated solo album, One Shoe Left. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)
Heard them on MPBN
Russian Lass | maine | 01/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Driving on the way to the Fryeburg Fair I was listening to an interview with a band called Growling Old Men. The music was so wonderful I just had to buy the CD - and I wasn't disappointed!"