New Zealand outfit’s second album of 2021 – and it’s a double!
New Zealand’s Adam Hattaway & The Haunters latest album is an epic 22 track double under the title “Rooster”. Hailing from the Ōtautahi area of Christchurch, this is the band’s fourth album in just three years and follows close on the heels of “Woolston, Texas”, which came out earlier in 2021 – they’re nothing if not prolific!
Adam Hattaway is the band’s frontman and main writer and it’s clear from the off that the band is, very much, his vision. In fact, it sometimes comes across as not so much a band as Hattaway and a bunch of sidemen musicians who may, or may not, get to play on a track, depending on how much he thinks he needs them. It’s actually quite difficult to determine who the rest of the band are, the info being buried deep in the Press Kit but, for the record, they’re Elmore Jones, Liam Quinn, and Holdyn Skinner, though who plays what is anyone’s guess – but good bands are rarely democracies and this does sound like a very good band, regardless of who is playing on what. Right from the start, there’s a swagger about this album, despite the opening track, ‘Back In Jail’, being a piano-driven ballad. Perhaps more typical of the band’s sound is the second track, ‘Riding the River’, a lolloping, bar room sing-along that is more indicative of the rest of the album and tracks like ‘It’s Hard’ and ‘Crime of the Country’, all delivered with a nicely judged level of attitude and a slight sneer in the voice – but there are interesting surprises along the way, a reflective, almost folky track like ‘Keep Walking’ or the pure country honk, complete with yodels, of ‘Honor Lee’ and the Byrds’ like jangle of ‘It’s too Late’.
Other standout songs on the album include the irreverent ‘Mama, You Made a Drinker’ and impressive album closer, the gospel-tinged ‘Ivory Town’ but there are a lot of good tracks here and, while it can be notoriously difficult to maintain quality across a double album, and 22 tracks is a substantial amount of music, Hattaway and his Haunters do a good job; this is an enjoyable selection of songs with little in the way of filler. They’re also savvy about the dynamics of a double album like this, mixing the tracks up well so that they create peaks and troughs as you work your way through the album, something that’s surprising to find this early in a band’s recording career. Perhaps the only real stumbling block here is Hattaway’s voice. It’s not unreasonable to say he’s not a great singer and his voice takes some getting used to. Like a lot of charismatic and driven frontmen, it’s Hattaway’s performance that sells the songs rather than the quality of his voice and his singing is likely to divide audiences. His voice can come across as fractured and frail on occasions and will be an acquired taste for some. That’s not, necessarily, a bad thing. Many very successful performers don’t have classically great voices and what Hattaway’s voice does have is distinction and character, but it might hinder the band’s wider appeal. I doubt that will bother them. They come across as an outfit that are confident in their music and their ability to sell it and you get the feeling that they could be quite an impressive live unit, especially if they’re as tight musically as they sound on record.
All in all, this is a good album that mixes up a whole range of musical styles into a very credible Americana album that comes down a little on the Indie rock side of the genre but wouldn’t be out of place alongside early Seventies Rolling Stones or the more recent output of bands like Promise of the Real. That mix of rock, country, and blues clearly runs through Hattaway and The Haunters’ work but there’s also something less definable there and it may well be more of an Antipodean approach to the music. Whatever it is, they’re forging a very identifiable sound of their own that looks likely to stand them in good stead over the coming years, and Hattaway is clearly a strong writer, capable of generating a good body of songs that can see them release strong albums on a regular basis. This album suggests we’ll be hearing more from Hattaway in the future but it would be good to see his bandmates get a bit of the credit as well; Hattaway’s may be the headline name but this is not a one-man-band.
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