The Hello Darlins “The Alders & The Ashes”

An americana gumbo performed by a band of musical experts.

The Hello Darlins are a Canadian musical collective formed during the pandemic by singer Candace Lacina and keyboardist Mike Little, both of whom had extensive experience working in the studios of North America and touring with various big name artists including B.B. King and Rodney Crowell. Their 2021 debut album ‘Go By Feet’ announced their arrival as a serious band in their own right, and after touring successfully, they have released their sophomore album,  ‘The Alders & The Ashes’. The Hello Darlins clearly didn’t suffer from the difficult second album syndrome because the new album is a double, containing 17 tracks, all written by Lacina and Little, with occasional help from guitarist Murry Pulver. The title invokes Celtic mythology with the trees signifying change and growth, and each tree being one disc of the physical album. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with guest slots from Bob Glaub on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums, bringing further instrumental expertise to the recording.

The opening track ‘Forgiving Cain and Loving Abel’ features Candace Lacina’s vocals to the full and is one of the best songs on the album. The guitar and keyboards are more to the fore on ‘What Is A Broken Heart For?’. The sound changes with the vocals of J.C. Edwards and Little’s Hammond organ on ‘Sea That Meets The Sky’. Lacina’s vocals are back with ‘Lay Down Low’ with an acoustic country backing. ‘Highway 355’ follows on naturally, with a real country ache in Candace Lacina’s vocals. The band could be in Muscle Shoals for ‘Better Days’ which ups the soul content, helped by guest Dave Fenley’s vocals. Lacina ups the pace on ‘Do You Fall’  before upping the country rock sound on ‘Carefree Arizona’ with the help of a prominent dobro. We are at a hoedown with a fiddle to the fore on a song about Lacina’s grandfather who ‘Died With His Boots On’ and taught her how to yodel which she does on this track.

The second disc is more eclectic and is there to give a fuller appreciation of the Hello Darlins sound. You will need your hankies out for the two opening tracks with Lacina front and centre as the sadness dial reaches 11 with ‘Reasons To Cry’ and ‘Best Worst Mistake’. We are in folk soul territory for ‘Lonely Shore’ with Ruby Friedman on vocals. Mike Little leaves his keyboards as he adds accordion to ‘Mama Knows’  which ups the tempo and the fun. Murray Pulver is featured on guitar and vocals on ‘Do It Up Right’ and shows the instrumental power that the band has. Though there have been hints before, the band shows their blues credentials on ‘Devil in the Dark’ with more than a hint of gospel in the vocals. The second disc ends with two versions of ‘Stranger In The Mirror’ with Mark Sexton on vocals that gives a glimpse of the funk capabilities of the Hello Darlins, with a good portion of New Orleans gumbo.

The Hello Darlins are pretty unique in that their technical proficiency is quite staggering, but this is not some slick recording project masterminded by a label’s PR department but a statement of who and what they think they are about. It means that there is a lot of music on ‘The Alders & The Ash’  which looks back to their debut album, and also forward to where their muse may take them. While the band is clearly very comfortable in the studio they do manage to bring individual touches to their arrangements so that the sound is never sterile. While you need to be careful with analogies, I did think from a musical perspective they could be thought of as an americana Steely Dan. The songwriting on ‘The Alders & The Ashes’ is more developed than on the Hello Darlins’ debut, ‘Go By Feet’, which shows that the band are developing and moving forward. Anyone who enjoys americana will find something to enjoy on this album, and the quality of the musicianship and arrangements may entice non-americana fans.

8/10
8/10

About Martin Johnson 389 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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