Pop Songs For Elk is the latest offering from Idaho trio Hillfolk Noir. It opens to North Idaho Zombie Rag (Mix B), a raucous, cacophonous, clattering, punked up, psychedelic bluesy stomp with a wailing saw. The opener is decidedly atypical of the rest of the album, which, all recorded live to half inch tape with no overdubs, is much more in conventional string band territory, as swiftly evidenced by the banjo and washboard dominated second track, Round I Sing/Mile On Up.
If their punky sensibilities can still be traced here, there’s no sign of them in Poor Man’s Love Song, a solo offering from frontman and songwriter Travis Ward that’s right out of the Guthrie textbook. Likewise, the frisky rag time Shimmy or the jug band styling of Uncle Jake, the lyrics of which (“a mean old man he washes his socks in a frying pan, you don’t want to go fisticuffs with Uncle Jake”) are firmly in the spirit of early vaudeville material. That said, the closing number, Sniffing Glue Blues, with its mix of spacey effects, distortions, backwards tape, reverb, psychyedelia and strummed acoustic busking folk is probably more in keeping with such freaky 60s outfits as The Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders.
In the main they play it fairly straight in recreating the old-time sound on the likes of talking blues Woods On Fire, washboard romping yeehawing Little Red Caboose and spooked banjo number Getting Late, even if the vocal delivery does nod more to rap than bluegrass. With a special nod to Alison Ward’s vocal spotlight on the shuffling country-blues My Train, this is an offbeat but highly rewarding addition to the roots revival that plants its feet in the past while keeping a playful eye on today.
Review by: Mike Davies
Pop Songs for Elk is Out Now (Self-Released)