Hoots and Hellmouth: The Holy Open Secret

By: Sarah Hagerman

The family band plays the family key
Underneath the family tree
While gathering round in apple baskets
Well it's hard to tell which ones are wombs
And which ones are caskets

A lethal combination of old timey charm and dark matter weaves through much of Hoots & Hellmouth's second full-length release, The Holy Open Secret (MAD Dragon). Although the band has a rafter raising energy that is imbibed with a divine fire - and a live show that will make you testify to the strength of plywood as they leap up and down on boards in lieu of drums - they definitely saunter in from the wrong side of the tracks, teetering on rails that lead towards Americana anarchy. The Philadelphia-based core trio of Sean Hoots (guitar, vocals), Andrew "Hellmouth" Gray (guitar, vocals), and Rob Berliner (mandolin, vocals), with producer Bill Moriarty (whose been behind the boards for other fantastic Philly outfits such as Dr. Dog and Man Man), utilize their kinetic muscle to the hilt on many tracks here.

From the rousing, untamed vocal interplay to the glorious mess of foot stomps, hand claps and beaten washboards to the emphatic strumming and picking, the assemblage of pieces snap together around their wildly bucking spine. Defiant punk rock shouts in "Root of the Industry" ("Hack your way to the root of the industry!") are just as fitting as the gospel declarations in "Known for Possession"("Brother, am I possessed?/ Well, I must say yes/ And so happy to be so"). "You and All of Us" is a rowdy, roadhouse howl, and "Watch Your Mouth" bops on an oom-pah-pah beat with a chorus surrounded by textured scats and chatter. But, there are breaks from the ruckus on dialed down songs like the plaintive "Dishpan Hands," which paints a scene of domestic unrest that's devastating in its simplicity, centering around a sink of dirty dishes:

I’ll get em done
And I’ll get em done right
Always looking to end a good fight
And I'll show you the man I want to be
In the home I long to save

Peaceful ending track "Roll, Brandywine, Roll" meanwhile grounds us by the Brandywine River that flows through Southeastern Pennsylvania, closing the album out on Mother Nature's watery whisper. Washed clean, you must say it was a smashing baptism, with mud smeared on the pews and the preacher stumbling through the aisle with stale whiskey breath. There's something freaky about this revival, and you'll definitely damn glad you drank the Kool-Aid.

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[Published on: 11/5/09]

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