Album Review | Jealous Butcher Records | Review by Marc Higgins
The Hackles are Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie, both members of Blind Pilot and a supporting cast of musicians. A Dobritch Did As A Dobritch Should, their second album is a hypnotic mix of the beautiful harmonies and striking songs we’d expect from this pai, alongside some familiar and sometimes surprising musical twists. The wonderful painting on the cover by David Coyne, part Glen Baxter illustration, part Rene Magritte, gives a clear indication of the dark mystery and wonder inside.
“Seven Lies” is a soft masterpiece, a strong opening track. Stroked acoustic guitars lay down an atmosphere, against which Kati Claborn’s vocal is simply stunning, Oregon’s Sandy Denny on her own and the band chorus vocals are divine, like the rich strings a nod back to classic 70’s warm acoustic music. “Dreamer” is another glorious miasma, Luke’s singing and James Owen Greenan pedal steel evoke the atmosphere of David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name. Gabrielle Mcrae’s raw fiddle and the lyrics ground the track in an earthy reality and stops it floating off completely. “Dominoes” opens with a different, rawer guitar riff, the vocals build in an almost hallucinatory swirl, with that guitar and the earworm chorus cutting through the layers of sound. This is like a Pacific Northwest Black Ark with Lee Scratch Perry folding grainy sound in echo, with the Swampers in attendance. Surprises abound throughout, the lovely organ, the juxtaposed harmonies at the end. “The Show Goes On” tells the story of Al Dobritch travelling circus man and titles the album in this rich vaudeville sparkling country romp. “Peaches” is a love song, full of Steinbeck imagery, given great atmosphere and a sense of urgency by the percussive guitar and banjo, contrasting the warmth of the vocals and those simply stunning harmonies. Again the production and the soundscape is expertly managed with dense layers that give way to moments of sparse purity. “The Empty Cups” uses that same modulation between sense and sparse to great effect. Luke and Kati deliver superb vocals, while the layered instruments rise and fall around them giving you so much to listen to. “Dragon Or A Bird” again adds Halli Anderson of River Whyless on vocals to the dense sound of The Hackles. Maybe it’s the layers of sounds, the rolling drum pattern, the uncertainty in the lyrics, but this track stretches out far beyond its three minute footprint like a swirling dream. “So I Go” opens like a slow tempo traditional murder ballad, with Kati setting the scene and building a sense of foreboding. This is a song of brooding restraint, the sitar like Dobro, the funeral drums and rich imagery like the gothic best of The Handsome Family. “A Mention” is a leisurely stroll of a song, the lyrics read like a conversational letter of regret, over a late night shimmer of guitar, double bass and “Solid Air” like wafts of vibraphone. This, with its space and atmosphere is a real grower. “86 Pages Of Secrets” is a twisted late night country song of secrets laid bare, a list of failings and regrets. The couplets are wonderfully surreal and as always the vocals are a delight.
The Hackles build on the pared back beautiful home grown lo-fi of The Twilight’s Calling It Quits. Those glorious vocals and harmonies have been joined by grainy layers of instruments, burnishing or setting those duo or trio vocals perfectly and often surprisingly. I refuse to do a, The Hackles rising pun, but it’s hard not to see this being an album on best of the year lists and the band as on the way.