Serious Sam Barrett and Pine Hill Haints, frontman for James the Fang, have been touring and playing together for quite some time now, forging a partnership based on a mutual love of skateboarding, folk tales, barroom nights and roots music. Their first joint release, The North Country Steed, saw mostly their own compositions before the album was rounded off with the traditional Irish song ‘The Nightingale’ – firmly cementing their abilities to both create timeless sounding folk songs and stamp their own personalities onto versions of old classics. This one sees that layout flipped, with the two playing mostly traditional music with a couple of original songs each in the mix. Each song reflecting: “Miles and miles of traveling, treading the boards and hearing the wheels hum, sleeping on the floor, in the woods, following stars and shadows”, this according to the text that scrawls its way along the back of the record sleeve. Thus the traditional numbers are tales of travelling and nomadic living, ‘Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads’ as Alan Lomax put it. In fact, more than one of the album’s tracks were first captured on reel by Lomax.
With the music recorded over the course of one day in Alabama, February 2016, the four-track mix is evocative of the spirit of these orally passed down musical tales. Rawly simplistic mixing can only compliment the sparse instrumentation consisting of just guitar, fiddle and voices and, from the get go, you feel yourself drawn into the enthusiasm that the two clearly have for their musical heritage. ‘When First Unto This Country’ opens the album with Sam’s hypnotic twelve string guitar playing, with nearly a minute passing before Jamie’s fiddle adds a rawer, primal element to the traditional number. ‘Diamond Joe’, meanwhile, is definitely more on the Haints end of the musical scale – due as much to the driving beat which fiddle and guitar create as to Jamie’s vocals. ‘Santa Fe Trail’ is a stately-paced ballad with a shanty-esque chorus, in which we can see the breadth of the musical diaspora. From Celtic origins to American frontier songs, the hills of Ireland to the Appalachians or the Southern Delta, these melodies have covered myriad miles and, arriving battered and weary, found themselves still sharing many of the same traits and motifs.
Their own songs on the record slot in perfectly with these, with lo-fi recording techniques infusing the tunes ‘Tennessee Train’, ‘Roses on the Dashboard’, ‘Diamond Horseshoe’ and ‘Beyond the Walls of Time’ with the same DIY spirit and simple enjoyment of music which led to the oral tradition of music being passed from generation to generation in the first place. Backgrounds in punk rock and skateboarding add a gritty element which gives both originals and covers more in common with early folk recordings than with many of their contemporaries, or for that matter most of those who have chosen to play these songs in the last 50 odd years. This is folk music stripped down and honest, from the rollicking ‘Sail Away Ladies’ to the haunting ‘Hang Me’; and from Sam’s almost title track ‘Diamond Horseshoe’ with its foot-stomping beat and straightforward storytelling style which he bends to his music so well, to the breathier vocals on the slower-paced but just as arresting ‘Beyond the Walls of Time’.
To be honest, the only complaint I have about this album is that it doesn’t last longer. It will have you turning the record back over, skipping back to the beginning and cracking open another cold beer, so get hold of a copy from Yadig? Records and keep an eye out for UK tour dates.
The Dime Horseshoe is available via Amazon