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Odetta Hartman – Old Rockhounds Never Die

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In Odetta Hartman’s newest release, “Old Rockhounds Never Die,” she is able to continue and evolve a folk tradition some might have thought died with Pete Seeger. This full-length album, brought to us by Northern Spy Records, combines folk staples like acoustic instrumentation (banjo, fiddle) and storytelling with modern production techniques.

To start, Hartman gives us a lighter story about journeying home via train travel in “Cowboy Song.” She narrates over banjo, a fiddle solo, arrangements of train sound effects, and a chain gang work rhythm. “I met a cowboy/he was real/he sang songs about job and steel/on the railroad/we were ramblin’.” The account has a sense of fun, flirtation, and mindless activities when stuck on a long trek. “In the lounge car at 3 a.m./we played sets with colorblind man/he wore gray/he wore gray.” The song ends with a train sounding farther away from listeners, as if we have gotten off at our stop and are moving on to more stories.

Toward the end of “Old Rockhounds Never Die,” Hartman sings a macabre tale titled “Misery.” Using a classic banjo, heavy bass, and sound effects, Hartman describes a scorned lover fresh from murdering her partner. “Well I left my baby in my hometown/buried six feet under ground/In my misery, misery/Oh misery, my misery.” The lyrics, stressed-out vocal style, tempo changes, and use of audible sirens and gunshots give listeners the image of a criminal on the run from authorities. Hartman ends with the notion of suicide. “Went out to a desert to holy ground/packed my pistol full of seven rounds/shot to the lips and I put myself down, down, down.”

Although Bostonites are known to be repelled by some brighter southern music (i.e. Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton), Old Rockhounds Never Die is a perfect specimen of Appalachian culture that northerners often appreciate (i.e. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and Johnny Cash). Equipped only with a dark toned banjo, an even darker collection of short stories, and a handful of production tricks, Hartman is able to deliver a strong collection of folk songs to listeners. Although positive notes are included in this work, Old Rockhounds Never Die is more suited for those that prefer grimness and a less peppy sense of humanity.

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