Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hawk Tubley and the Airtight Chiefs

CD Review by M. David Hornbuckle

Hawk Tubley and the Airtight Chiefs: Cooking with Dynamite

Official Hawk Tubley Website

George Mostoller was a fixture in the Birmingham music scene throughout the 1990s and early 2000s in bands the Freeloaders, Crazy Treehead, and Partial to Mabel. He now lives in Philadelphia (the one up north, not in Mississippi), but over the past couple of years, he has been travelling back to Birmingham to make an album. He worked with former bandmate Tym Cornell at his Wild Honey Studios in Roebuck Springs to create this record. Mostoller’s session musicians for this album are some of the best (and weirdest) in the business, including guitar virtuoso Davey Williams, Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge, saxophonist Marshall Allen from Sun Ra's Arkestra, as well as some of the most sought-after session musicians around Birmingham like Jason Bailey and Matt Slocum.

 On faster numbers, George strums in syncopated patterns, and on the slower ones, he picks in a folksy manner with lumbering bass lines and bright sterile harmonies. He croons with a slight vibrato about booze, trains, food, and sex. His voice is as solid and splintery as a hickory log.

The standout tracks include the first one, “Devil in a Bottle”, which is a catchy, funny folk tune about the struggle with the booze, featuring hot mandolin solos throughout by Birmingham newgrass hero Jason Baily. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, but totally addictive like that devil in the bottle itself. The hand claps at the end give it an epic quality.

 On “I Remember” Mostoller takes a song that could be a poetic and pretty but not especially noteworthy ballad and twists it into pieces by having Davey Williams and Marshall Allen flit around the melody like insane dragonflies. The slightly-off stereo vocals add to the haunting and disturbed sense of nostaligia that the lyrics invoke.

 “Nothing Good” is a surprisingly funky, soulful slow tune featuring Davey Williams, Oteil Burbridge, Marshall Allen, and Matt Slocum. The lineup would be enough to make this my favorite. To call out the clever wordplay of the lyrics seems almost redundant--all of George's songs have that, but this song is George doing what George does at his best as a lyricist.

Fans of Colonel Bruce Hampton and Widespread Panic will enjoy the country fried psychedelia, but folks who don't get into noodling solos or cacophonous jazz noise should not fear this record. Fans of Robyn Hitchcock will admire the absurd sense of wordplay in the lyrics. Anyone who appreciates smart, hummable songs should give this a listen. You will be hooked from the first track.

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