Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hot Buttered Rum: “Lonesome Panoramic” (2018) CD Review

There was some good news coming out of the midterm elections, but things are still frightening, with more mass shootings and with a president who is totally unhinged and happily immersing himself in fascism, his followers having become more rabid and demented, permanently detached from the reality I thought we had all agreed upon years ago. But then events and politics tend to make us all feel untethered and powerless, and we desperately need to feel part of a community again, part of something good. Bluegrass music helps bring us back to Earth. It has that power, that vibe. It seems to urge us to come together, to remind us of some goodness that might otherwise seem dormant or dead. We need this music now. And Hot Buttered Rum’s recent release, Lonesome Panoramic, helps us keep in mind that life is bigger than the horrid, temporary mess we find ourselves in. This isn’t strictly bluegrass (hardly strictly bluegrass, right?), the musicians moving easily through several musical worlds, combining sounds as they see fit, and it all works so well. The band has been together for more than fifteen years now, and their longevity shows in the delicious jams and flow of the music on this release. The album features all original material, with some special guests joining the band on certain tracks.

The album opens with “You Can Tell,” and straight off, this is just what I need, some real music played with joy. There is a short instrumental introduction, and it makes me think of some wonderful times I’ve spent in Irish pubs with good people, dancing and drinking. This is a delightful, cheerful love song written by Erik Yates. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Yeah, you can tell/Just by looking at me/The way I’m looking at you/Girl, it ain’t hard to see/That my heart’s beating double/And I never could hide it all that well/Baby, you can tell.” Then, in “Sittin’ Here Alone,” they sing “I’m sittin’ here alone/I’m sittin’ here wondering/Just when I’ll know what’s coming my way/Will I find peace here before me/Will I find peace my dying day.” Those are lyrics I think a lot of folks can relate to these days. This track features some really nice work on fiddle, which is helping to raise my spirits. “Sittin’ Here Alone” was written by guitarist Nat Keefe.

On “Country Tunes & Love Songs,” the vocals have something of that smooth 1970s sound, a comforting sound. “I’ve been dreaming/Country tunes and love songs/Wish that I could sing them all to you/When I try to write ‘em down/Never can remember/I rack my brain and see if I can/Come up with something new.” This one was composed by Nat Keefe, Kellen Coffis and Jamie Coffis. Kellen and Jamie also provide some vocals on this track. That’s followed by “How Short The Song,” a mellower song with a beautifully sad folk sound. This is one of my personal favorites, with its gorgeous and haunting feel. “Help is what you needed/Help is what you got/Hell is a distance/Between what’s here and what’s not/Another night, another dawn/How short the song.” The line that stands out in “Treasure Island Blues” is “You don’t know what lonesome is ‘til your lonesome goes away.” An interesting line. The vocals are delivered with spirit, with energy. This track also has a nice groove, with some wonderful work on bass. Then “Never Got Married” bursts in with a delightful force, and is one of those fast-paced bluegrass tunes that never fail to raise my spirits. Yes, it is another of my favorites.

The Rainbow Girls (Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey and Vanessa May) join the band on vocals for the beautiful and compelling “The Spirits Still Come,” another of the disc’s highlights. Listen to the way the fiddle is used in this song, at one point sounding like some haunted voice from the heavens, raining down from some eerie, violent cloud. That’s followed by “Sleeping Giants.” I’m digging that bass line, and the way the banjo kind of dances above it. This song borrows a line from Emmylou Harris’ “Deeper Well”: “You’ve got to look for the water from a deeper well.” Then “Leaving Dallas” has some bright sounds, and I can understand the excitement in the line “Finally leaving Dallas.” Dallas is a place I have no interest in visiting whatsoever. That’s followed by “When That Lonesome Feeling Comes,” which has a wonderful combination of gospel and bluegrass vibes. You might very well find yourself singing along to this one. And it has a joyful jam toward the end. I love this song. Then “Mighty Fine” has a cheerful vibe and a fun groove. It takes a turn halfway through to become an interesting jam. There is some fantastic playing here. “The One That Everybody Knows” is a somewhat mellower number with its own nice jam featuring some good stuff on banjo. The disc then ends with “The Deep End,” a warm and wonderful folk song that develops a catchy groove and is yet another of the disc’s highlights. “Well, I was thinking of the deep end/And thinking I’d be working hard like a tug boat/But as soon as I got into the water/All I really had to do was float.” This one was written by Nat Keefe, Erik Yates, Dan Lebowitz and Zach Gill. Dan Lebowitz plays electric guitar and Zach Gill is on keys; both also provide some vocals.

CD Track List
  1. You Can Tell
  2. Sittin’ Here Alone
  3. Country Tunes & Love Songs
  4. How Short The Song
  5. Treasure Island Blues
  6. Never Got Married
  7. The Spirits Still Come
  8. Sleeping Giants
  9. Leaving Dallas
  10. When That Lonesome Feeling Comes
  11. Mighty Fine
  12. The One That Everybody Knows
  13. The Deep End 
Lonesome Panoramic was released on July 20, 2018.

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