Folk? Well, no, not really. But folksy and bluesy and rootsy and thoroughly good fun. From The Hills Below The City is the debut album by Houndmouth, a band from New Albany, Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, where the Midwest meets the South. It has the full complement of cops & robbers, trains, casinos and drugs, all beautifully delivered with a jaunty swagger and foot-tappingly good tunes.
They are a proper band where all four members get their turn in the spotlight. Matt Myers is the frontman, admittedly, and his versatile guitar gives the band its rocky and playful edge. He has a definite presence, the more so now that he has lost the rather louche moustache that was fine for a video for their signature song, inviting us to come on down to the ‘Penitentiary’ – but not ideal for budding stardom. Interesting singer though he is, Katie Toupin on the organ is equally watchable and sprinkled with stardust, and many of the album’s best moments come from her vocals: sometimes sultry and wicked as when taking the lead on ‘Casino (Bad Things)’, sometimes in effortless harmony or thrillingly banshee-like over the top of ‘Krampus’, which one might say had a touch of gospel if it wasn’t all so much closer to the jailhouse than the church.
Shane Cody on drums and Zak Appleby’s bouncy bass are also integral to the band’s sound: Cody gets the lead vocals on ‘Long As You’re At Home’ and although he looks like central casting’s version of the rural mid-westerner he is the chattiest of the four when they play live. Appleby wears a permanent grin that even lead vocals duty on ‘Hey Rose’ fails to wipe off, and like the album as a whole the song is infectiously engaging. Only in ‘Palmyra’, rather curiously chosen as the closing track, do Houndmouth drop the tempo for a hauntingly effective love song. In fact there isn’t a dull moment on the album, with ‘Comin’ Around Again’ deserving a special mention as the song that one ends up humming afterwards.
From Hills Below The City might not be startlingly original, granted. But it’s delightfully, boisterously played and somehow manages to sound comfortingly familiar and fresh at the same time. Houndmouth do what they do at least as well as anyone else around, and are well worth catching when next back in the UK . And if you edge to the front, you might get passed their bottle of Kentucky bourbon.
Words: James Garvin