I stumbled across Hook & Anchor at a bar during my last trip to Portland, Oregon. It was an album release concert as the hometown band was debuting its eponymous album that night. The band was energetic, and the music was engaging. I became a fan of the band’s live music, but I wondered about the recorded music. How did it sound? How did it feel?
For the most part, the album plays similar to that concert. You can credit that to the quintet, led by ringleader Kati Claborn (Blind Pilot), for not being devoted to a single genre (Americana) and mixing it up with additional styles like bluegrass and blues. Passion for the music also helps, which is acutely reflective in the songs.
Joined by two other members of Blind Pilot, Luke Ydstie and Ryan Dobrowski, as well as Gabrielle Macrae (The Macrae Sisters), and Erik Clampitt (Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck, Power of County), Claborn originally sought to jam for a bit ahead of performing at the San Francisco Old-Time and Bluegrass Festival. But since most of the band was experienced in “traditions of rural American music,” as Claborn put it in a press release, the band naturally gravitated toward that sound and its themes.
The album opens with “Famously Easy,” a tune with a familiar pop-country sound about love, and its aches and pains. “Wild Wind” follows with a strangely laid-back immediacy, evoking imagery of horseback riding on a grasslands or prairie.
The highlight of the album, which surprisingly also feels like a bit of an oddity, is without a doubt the uptempo “Concerning Spectral Pinching” for its biting attitude and soaring melodies. It’s a grand song, but its placement as the third track makes the remaining nine songs on the album (although still pleasant in each of their own rights—please also check out “Light of the Moon” and “Blackbird”) sound somewhat disappointing since they never come close to reaching the same heights.
I may be partially biased since I can still remember their live performance from many months ago. The venue (Mississippi Studios) and the crowd helped foster this amazing atmosphere that perfectly fit the band’s music and its vibe, especially on more somber tracks like “Hammer” and “Hazel Dell.” That being said, Hook & Anchor’s debut album is still a worthwhile listen, but the band’s live show is a much better musical experience (and unfortunately I missed its interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours).
[photo via In Music We Trust]