May 24, 2024

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CD review: Hog Branch – Hog Branch 2022: Video, CD cover

This is a debut album from a seasoned group of Austin musicians: Rick Watson on bass, Will Daniel on sax, Matt Schmidt on guitar, Dave Aaronoff on keys and Michael Bahan on drums; everyone contributes on vocals, all bar drummer Michael taking the lead on some of the tunes.

Guests on one track include vocalist Nicole Tenneyuque, guitarist Nick Gonzales, drummer Rubin Nizri and string instrumentalist Grace Youn, while recording engineer Matt Parmenter also adds backing vocals to one cut.

The band plays a mixture of covers and originals, the style being generally at the funky end of the spectrum, as witnessed by the three opening cuts. Kool & The Gang’s “Let The Music Take Your Mind” is almost an instrumental with its insistent rhythms and minimal vocals which more or less repeat the title, but offers plenty of opportunity for guitar, sax and keys to shine; Will and Rick wrote “Getting To The Groove” which fits its title, keeping up the danceable stuff, this time with almost rap-like vocals shared between the authors; an instrumental version of the Bee Gees’ “Nights On Broadway” is well done with sax and piano featured. Rick’s “Slow Grind” is sung by Matt, a blues with doom-laden lyrics before Will sings about what he needs in his life, a “Tahitian Pearl”, complete with a stately sax break.

Dave sings his own “Walking Papers”, his electric piano leading into a ballad with good harmonies and Will’s sax again attracting attention before Matt delivers a nicely poised solo with jazzy tinges. The name of the band apparently comes from the name of Rick’s family land in Louisiana where his mother grew up and played gospel and boogie piano, so, naturally, “Hog Back Strut” is a swampy instrumental with more strong sax work. The frequently covered “Careless Love” dates back to the 1920’s and is here credited to Ray Charles, though usually considered to be WC Handy’s song; this is not the strongest version of the song but provides an extended feature for Matt on guitar and vocals. The track with the guests is a jazzy tune entitled “Afraid I’ll Wake”, Nicole’s smooth vocals set over the light melody. As a bonus we get a live version of “Hottentot” which runs to almost seven minutes, Matt playing guitar that is almost in competition with the main riff, very much in keeping with the author of the tune, John Scofield, something of a jam to close the album.

With elements of funk, jazz and blues, Hog Branch has something for everyone.

I’m stoked that the range of emotions within the songs really shows up on Hog Branch, our self-titled album. More than technical prowess, the band captures the spirit and story of the songs, and our engineer Matt Parmenter from Ice Cream Factory Studio in Austin did a great job facilitating that, along with Tim Gerron, our mastering engineer. One of my favorite tracks is the John Scofield tune Hottentot. Sound engineer Nick Lewis, who’s a killer bassist in Austin, took the liberty of recording a show. We were unaware of the recording but really thrilled when we listened back because we had played so freely and without any pressure, and Nick really captured our live sound with a very limited setup. The band has recently started writing for our next album. Saxophonist Will Daniel is like family to me. We’ve toured all over for years in multiple projects. He also owns Blue Vada Records, the label that released our album. Check out his band Willie D and The Hip Pockets! I’d also worked in other projects with drummer Michael Bahan, and we already had a strong connection as a rhythm section. Dave Aaronoff, who plays keys on this record, leads his own band The Hens from guitar (for which I’d subbed on upright bass from time to time), and he fit right into the fold. Matt Schmidt filled in last-minute for an early gig, and we all knew immediately that his fit was perfect. We supported each other throughout the pandemic by playing many, many livestream shows while working on the record. All the guys sing in this project too,- an interview with me said Blues bassist and bandleader of Hog Branch, Rick Watson.

Getting to the Groove
Hog Branch Strut
Let the Music Take Your Mind
Careless Love
Afraid I’ll Wake
Tahitian Pearl
Slow Grind
Nights on Broadway
Walking Papers

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

Hog Branch – Hog Branch | Album Review – Blues Blast Magazine

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