Embarrassment of country riches
You wouldn’t take them home to ma, not because they’re dirty, scruffy, and rough around the edges (though they are, and then some), but because you’d be worried she’d actually enjoy a roll in the Hackensaw Boys’ bluegrass hay. Keep in mind the band can number as many as 13. Could you ever look at your ma the same way again?
Their lewd down-home charm’s quite a potent combo, though they also serve their hash browns scattered with boyish naiveté, scattered with chilly lonesome dread and covered with goofball humor. Welcome to throw down their hoedown pretty much anywhere, the Hacks are as Charlottesville as Thomas Jefferson, and as democratic.
With a longbed pickup-full of players, the band accommodates their girth with a four-way songwriting division that makes for a consistent yet varied drawl on their latest release, the imminent Keep It Simple. The boys who make this handcart are
Robbie St. Ours (a.k.a. Uncle Blind Bobby)
With omnipresent leather jacket and shades, St. Ours looks and sounds as serious as a nocturnal hitchhiking apparition you’ve got no business picking up. Backed by chilly gusts of accordion and dusty guitar picking, on the banjo-fueled “Jonah,” St. Ours dispenses advice like, “You get back up again boy, you get back up again/This world gone’ knock you right back down again.”
Elsewhere, on the pagan rave “Gypsy,” he proves himself the band’s best link to the time in their music’s history when the Devil wasn’t a fairytale but a real person. When St. Ours sings, “Dance gypsy dance, dance ‘round the fire,” don’t be too sure you want to stick around for what he’s conjuring.
Tom Peloso (a.k.a. Pee Paw)
The upright bass player with a deep slang to match, Peloso’s good for some goose bumps on “Keep Me Lord,” where the doom of winding fiddle and galloping banjo all but cancel out his pleas. Peloso also throws in a pair of Sunday-best odes, “Ruby Pearl” and “When You Said I Love You,” where a flittering mandolin makes the noise he feels when he sings, “My heart swelled up inside.”
David Sickmen (a.k.a. Shiner)
The big softy of the group, Sickmen outs his romantic heart on the shy guitar ballad “Smilin’ Must Mean Something.” Raspy sentiments like “Maybe we can be friends, maybe just a little more,” and “Why did I come to Nashville, Tennessee/It’s gonna break my heart, gonna break my mind” also mark his as the most contemporary- minded songs of the group.
Rob Bullington (a.k.a. Mahlon)
Though only two of his contributions appear on Keep It Simple, Bullington’s Appalachian stomp on “Miner”— where he imagines himself to be a miner and a warm-biscuit eatin’ banker— and the album-closing reverie, “Wherever You Are,” are two of the album’s strongest efforts, and more than enough reason to hope for more in the band’s more natural live setting.
The biggest difficulty in writing about the Hacks is finding room for all of their contributions (something they themselves handle much better). If you haven’t yet, introduce yourself to the rest of the Hacks. You might not even want to wash your hands afterwards.
The Hackensaw Boys perform Thursday, February 21, at Plan 9. Free, 5:30pm. The Hackensaws throw a CD release party with openers Faster Than Walking on Friday, February 22, at Starr Hill. $7, doors at 8pm, music at 9pm.