Hillfolk Noir “Junkerpunch” (Independent, 2017)

An obscurely entitled 5th outing if ever there was. “What is a ”Junkerpunch?” we hear you cry. Even good old Google appears to be bereft of answers on that one. Thankfully, the press release accompanying Hillfolk Noir’s 5th album makes it clear – it’s slang for a ‘cheap shot’… the kind of punch that results in the boxer’s break that hampered Travis Ward’s guitar playing for a lengthy 9 months on 2016. As the adopted name of this immense collection of no less than 17 songs and instrumentals, Junkerpunch is also a title that says a lot about the approach adopted by Hillfolk Noir who, let’s face it, write songs like someone thumping, with quite some aggression, at the proverbial door of old time authenticity whilst simultaneously hiding behind a thin veil of playful irreverence like a child hiding behind a curtain, desperate to be noticed.

The album, which was, as one would expect, recorded in ‘old skool’ analogue fashion directly to 1/2″ tape is all clatter, catastrophe and glorious caterwaul.  Tracks like Dead MaudAlone Sitting On A Bench and Might As Well Live Like A Hobo are ideally placed as a the defining essence of the band’s creative vision, that is: approaching tradition as though it is theirs to disturb with vigor, echoing very much the approach taken by The Pogues with their re-imagining of the Irish musical tradition (albeit in this case with slightly more restrain and slightly less booze).

Weaving banjo-frailing with gentler, finger-picked country-blues, Hillfolk Noir have enough of a palette to hold the interest of their audience (switching between makeshift jug band percussion, banjo, guitar and musical saw) whilst staying true to what is the clearest of unwritten-yet-obvious creative missions statements: make music like it’s 1935.

Across the duration of 17 songs, there are moments that feel a little tiresome, moments where the blistering virtuosity of bands like Hot Club of Cowtown would otherwise shine, but on the whole this is solid offering that is a brilliantly executed playing out of that most postmodern of sub-genres: contemporary old time music. Confusing, but wonderfully entertaining.

Author: Owen Gillham

Banjo playing, guitar strumming, bearded folky with a special place in his heart for Americana, coffee and cake. Graduated from Bretton Hall many years ago with a degree in Contemporary Music and (he said, proudly) probably the only person on that course to have ever written a dissertation about country music!

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