When old-time fiddler Brittany Haas, guitarist Jordan Tice, mandolinist Dominick Leslie, and Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert join forces as instrumental quartet Hawktail, they become more than a supergroup for any specific genre. As new album Formations proves, the band members defy expectations based on other projects or instruments of choice by constantly pushing each other’s creative boundaries.
Our journey begins with Scandinavian-style folk tune “Annbjørg.” Every band member plays a set role as guitar and mandolin serve as the rhythm section for a mesmerizing fiddle and bass duel.
The role of each members’ instrument changes, sometimes within the same song. For example, Leslie’s mandolin shifts to the forefront early in “Last on the Line” before Haas’ fiddle once again holds court. Instruments doubling as interchangeable “voices” in a story without words continues with a song probably named after Atlanta’s best listening room, “Eddie’s Attic,” as well as the cheerful, bass-driven “Padiddle” and buoyant fiddle tune “The Tobogganist.”
For the seven-song collection’s lone cover, Swedish trio Väsen’s “One Hour in Hungary” gets slowed down to a stately tune that’s more likely to be heard at a highfalutin garden party than a folk-friendly get-together. Still, it’s a powerful display of Hawktail’s virtuosity and the versatility of its members’ chosen instruments.
Lastly, “Dandelion” stands out as the group’s most challenging and rewarding composition to date. It relies more on the chamber music influences heard on prior Hawktail album Unless than any other song on Formations, yet its finger-picking accompaniment and mesmerizing fiddle parts turn a slightly familiar formula into something completely new.
Hawktail recorded Formations in just four days with another Punch Brother in co-producer Chris “Critter” Eldridge as well as seasoned engineer Dave Sinko (Béla Fleck, Sam Bush) and mixer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Shania Twain).