The Tillers – The Tillers
SofaBurn Records – 23 March 2018
Their first release in five years, The Tillers line up has now expanded to a four-piece with the addition of fiddler player Joe Macheret. Their self-titled album finds the Cincinnati string band folksters in fine fettle and with a sharply focused political edge and a punky energy to their bluegrassy roots.
Running up their political flag, they’ve not only recorded a surging, banjo-driven cover of Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose, but Mike Oberst has also added new verses to take in contemporary race hatred. Of their own material, they also channel the Guthrie protest spirit with the traditional-sounding Migrant’s Lament and the nostalgia-infused The General Store Is Burning Down, a slow fiddle waltzer highlight about the passing of an older way of life (as well as the specific loss of the Rabbit Hash General Store where they regularly played), but also his good timing lust for life with the Cajun-tinted The Riverboat Dishwashing Song, the hoe-down bouncing tale of a lad who dreams of being a, well, riverboat dishwasher, until the vessel springs a leak and sinks.
There’s contemporary social commentary to be found too on the bluesier Revolution Row (“ I’ve been told the streets up in heaven are paved with gold. That don’t do me no damn good. Ain’t no sign of heaven in my neighborhood”) and the environmentally-themed Dear Mother, while the shanty-styled Like A Hole In My Head is more introspective in addressing how the demands of life can make you forget the important essentials.
Elsewhere, Mona is two-minute banjo flurry train rattling song about some poor bloke who, having to work all hours with his hammer to keep his demanding wife happy, decides to lay on the line to get to heaven and put an end to his troubles, while the album’s bookended with songs about weary travellers looking to head home. The opener’s the rousing dust bowl stomp Weald and The Wild with Macheret’s flying fiddle, the closing track being, in stark contrast and one more conjuring Woody, the stripped back, acoustic strum of Another Postcard, nasally sung with simple but effective banjo and fiddle backing.
Old-school string bands have been seeing something of a revival in recent years, and The Tillers, as demonstrated on this album, are certainly up front leading the charge.
THE TILLERS TOUR DATES
4/12 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar (w/ Pert’ Near Sandstone)
4/13 St. Louis – Off Broadway (w/ Pert’ Near Sandstone)
4/14 Bloomington, IN – The Bishop (w/ Pert’ Near Sandstone)
4/21 Albany, TX – Walk This Earth Fest
5/31-6/1 Bean Blossom, IN – John Hartford Memorial Festival
6/15 Eau Claire, WI – Blue Ox Music Festival
(additional dates to be announced soon)
Photo Credit Michael Wilson