CULTURE- BUZZBOX- Home again: Bluegrass boys pick Starr Hill

Starr Hill's lineup this week includes a healthy dose of neo-bluegrass thanks to the Hackensaw Boys, Old School Freight Train, and King Wilkie's first local show since the Jefferson Theater performance back in April.  Count 'em– that's three bands, all playing at the same venue in the same week and cut from the same stylistic cloth. Somehow all three homecomings still seem momentous. If nothing else, that's food for thought.

Hackensaw Boy Tom Peloso became a Modest Mouse after a summer 2004 supporting tour, but the other members have kept going strong– except for the exit of vocalist David Sickmen, that is. Back in April, he told the Hook why: "I had been dedicating so much time to the Hackensaw Boys that I was losing touch with my family and my local community." 

And since one can never have enough QT with the kids, he's still out of the picture when it comes to touring. He hasn't ruled out the possibility  of working with the Hacks on the next album, but for now the band will have to forge ahead without any of the original members.

King Wilkie also lost a member of their posse– manager Rick Easton recently split– but the band is still excited thanks to the contract with Rounder Records that they landed over the summer. Their new album, produced by Jim Scott of Wilco and Johnny Cash fame, is already finished and should make it to shelves in February. 

"The record we made is not necessarily that traditional," says guitarist Ted Pitney. He explains that it includes instruments beyond the ones they normally use, but trips momentarily over the word "keyboards" before elaborating: while they may have used keyboard-based instruments, they certainly didn't use any synths.  

"All the instruments we used were acoustic instruments," he says. Those included steel guitar, organ, accordian and cello, and Pitney said those touches took the band into uncharted territory. 

"They're really small strokes, you won't pick up on them on the first listen," he says. "There are a lot of different shades of emotion, if you will– songs that are a little more melancholy than traditional bluegrass."

Old School Freight Train, meanwhile, has begun working on their next record with  producer Chris Keup, who has credits with Jason Mraz, among others.  

"The songs that we're writing for it are more focused," says mandolin player Pete Frostic. He also tells us that they've started toying with instrumentation, but he mentions drums– and when he says keyboards, he means it. And while the band isn't looking to emulate anybody, they can't help but find inspiration in the runaway pop success of Nickel  Creek a few years back. 

"It's opened up the way that people will look at us and the instruments we're playing and not necessarily pigeonhole us," says Frostic. "These instruments can play hit stuff."  

Their professional ties to terrifyingly werewolfey mandolinist David Grisman are old news by now, but supporting him on tour last year caught the attention of Red Light Management, which offered to take them on in May, thereby arranging all the pieces necessary for a mainstream pop breakthrough– remember, these are the people who brought us Jem.