3hattrio – Live At Zion

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins

Ewan MacColl’s Ballads and Blues Club, based in London, instigated what they called “the policy”, meaning you sang the songs you were physically and geographically connected to. There is an argument that says that this belief helped start the UK revival and stopped everyone trying to sound like a Guthriesque rail riding hobo. The Indigenous Australian Aboriginal People believe in The Songlines, a connection between song and place, with stories recounted as your cross a space. 3hattrio, Greg Istock, Eli Wrankle and Hal Cannon play American Desert Music. Their music is conceived, recorded and on this album performed in Zion National Park, the musicians home in Zion Canyon, Utah. The rugged but beautiful landscape on the sleeve is not a visual affectation a backdrop to make them look cool, it’s where these musicians and music are rooted. To mark the 1st Century of the Park’s existance, bowing to the birds, animals of Zion and the native people of the landscape they love 3hattrio recorded this album. 

In front of an audience of fans, friends and neighbours, at an adobe pre civil war church in the hamlet of Virgin, “Wind” opens the album. Eli’s electric violin and rumbling notes from Greg’s Double Bass suggest the vast sky and weather. Hal’s Country vocal and banjo sings of the wind, where it has come from and it’s power. The trio create a music as expansive and powerful as the landscape they describe. “Thelma And Louise” by Istock opens with his huge jazz bass notes and his impish, Blues or scat mumbled vocals. These are as evocative as Celtic mouth music and a strong part of the three ingredient soup that is the 3hattrio sound. His rock solid bass, sitting squarely between Jazz and Reggae also anchors the piece, allowing Greg and Hal to bend and shimmer around him. This is seven and a half minutes of shifting mirage mood music. “Zion Song” is love song for the Park, sung by Hal. “Blood River” is a hymn for the slow back route, moments of contemplation. Greg’s vocal and bass are joined by a folk jig banjo and electric violin. “Desert Triptych” blends three 3hattrio in a sublime slow build suite. “Rose” is a slow morning sunrise, “Night Sky” is a delightfully slow look at the expansive dark expanse. These impressionistic pieces may wander through the hinterland between genres, borrowing the sounds of Country or folk and the freewheeling time stretching of jazz, but are so evocative that there pictures rush into your head.

“Lord Of The Desert” is a blissed out evocation of the spirits of the Wilderness, like a sun weathered cave swelling Jim Morrison, Hal chants through the powerful words. “Texas Traveler” is a dusty old time piece of traditional folk, like slow building bluegrass, with 3hattrio building up a twister like jig at the end after the mindful peyote like state of the previous track. The impish, playful scatting from Greg in the middle section is typical live 3hattrio, with serious musicianship and some chops behind the audience singalong, follow him at your peril. “Crippled up Blues” is a blues by Hal, but the rhythmic beat and tempo stop it being miserable and full of self pity. The tune evokes the dancing and moves the song is lamenting. “Flight” is a lullaby as Hal watches the animals and nature moving, again like a revelation he moves from the micro to the macro, contemplating the whole of creation, while the other musicians paint weather and space. “Zion Coda” closes the recording, grounding the whole piece “back home again”, like watching the last glimmers of a fading sunset.

The album is carefully sequenced  individual pieces of music and songs but listened to as a whole this is a suite of music, a love poem that celebrates and evokes the spirit of the Zion National Park, a place dear to 3hattrio. Hal, Eli and Greg take well travelled musical forms and blend them together to make something that is exciting, rich and strange, to borrow from Eliot. 3hattrio’s music is worn smooth and well travelled, like the rock steps to a viewing vista, but once there they manage to show you something you haven’t seen before.

You can’t have my copy, so you will have to buy your own, which you really should and see them live.