3Hattrio comprise of Hal Cannon on vocals, banjo and guitar, Greg Istock on upright bass and vocals and Eli Wrankle on violin, the titfer titled trio take their inspiration from the parched deserts of Southern Utah. As such, they’re particularly steeped in the region’s folk traditions, which inevitably means elements of Scandinavia and British music feed into the sound too. Indeed, with its slight Celtic hues, you could almost hear Richard Thompson doing Western City Nights.
The area has figured large in classic Hollywood westerns by the likes of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and George Roy Hill and the music on their sophomore album shares the brooding atmosphere and darkness of the best of them. Kicking things off is Get Back Home, Wrankle’s violin adding a suitably mournful note as Istock’s rusty tenor tells the loss of twenty-five people to a flash flood. Like the bulk of the numbers, it’s self penned, the threesome’s material ranging from the minimal banjo-accompanied Nothing, Cannon’s deep lugubrious voice conjuring thoughts of the Handsome Family, and the bass and fiddle led alt-folk of the winter-themed White Pressing Down to the jazz-soul colours enfolding Off The Map (Istock also brings a soulful groove to the slow shuffling Get On The Bus) and the dry-boned instrumental Crippled Up Blues.
Featuring Cannon’s arid tones and some scat work by Istock, of especial note is the six-and-a-half minute Sand Storm with its images of galloping through the desert and the heady double bass eastern flavours that serve as a reminder that Utah was also the destination of many Jewish immigrants.
Two traditional numbers make up the track list, first up being their reading of a traditional English murder ballad, or, since the scheming adulterous wife’s attempts to blind and then kill her husband misfire when he turns the tables on her and she’s drowned, perhaps attempted murder might be a better call. Here the song’s titled Carry Me Away, but may be better known among folk circles as either There Was An Old Woman In Our Town or The Old Woman In Yorkshire, although the trio’s reworked lyrics relocate her to London and, instead of going to buy marrow bones she, in a rather anachronistic note, pops down to the drug store.
The second rummage through the archives turns up Left Texas, a wearied song about an 1891 cattle drive learned from old time Oklahoma cowboy singer Dick Devall via John Lomax and set to a new melody by Istock arranged for sparse circling guitar line and spooked forlorn violin.
An at times hauntingly chilly and always hugely atmospheric album, this pulls you into the stark world conjured by the title with a compelling intensity. There used to be a Western TV series in the 70s called The High Chaparrel. This lot should be called The High Chapeaural.
Dark Desert Night is out on May 1st via Okehdokee Records
Order it via Bandcamp