Review: The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart – At Least We Have Each Other (Freedom, 2012)
The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart – At Least We Have Each Other (Freedom, 2012)
The Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart bring together three respected soloists from the Americana scene: Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnson and Susan Cowsill. The latter had a large helping of mainstream fame in the 1960s with her family’s group, The Cowsills, but since the 1980s she’s made a name for herself a backing vocalist, a charter member of the Continental Drifters and with a low-key solo career over the past decade. Graham’s first notoriety came with the Skunks and the True Believers, and after years collaborating with others (and briefly dropping out of the industry), he began a solo career with 1999’s exceptional Escape from Monster Island. Johnston began his career as a singer-songwriter in the early ‘90s, starting with rootsy sounds that quickly took in more country flavor.
What’s obvious from the album’s very first track, is that the three musicians’ individual paths led them to a place of tight collaboration. Johnston’s indie roots, Graham’s driving rock and bohemian growl, Cowsill’s hook-filled pop, and all three’s immersion in country, blues and folk, come together easily, as if they’d been a group for years. Those fictional years as a family are turned concrete by the shared experiences brought to their songwriting, populating their lyrics with images from blue roads and bluer hearts. Graham’s “All Things Being Equal” reaches outside his personal experience for a harrowing portrait of a failed cotton market, but his “Almost Dinnertime” and Cowsill’s “Sodapoptree” offer gentler notes of warm nostalgia.
The trio’s music is as diverse as their collected experience, including swampy Americana, Mexicali ballads, quirky power-pop and electric folk-rock. The album’s ten tracks are split between seven recorded as a full band (and funded by a Kickstarter campaign) and three demos recorded previously without a drummer; a separate digital download adds nine more demos. You can hear from the demo sessions that the principals’ mutual affinity was immediate, a gathering of like souls who’d been practicing to play together throughout their independent musical lives.