Follow That Trail
of Dust Back Home

(Back Up & Push, 2006)

Pretty much everything above tells you where this band is coming from. A hooverville was a Depression-era squatters' shack named in sarcastic honor of Herbert Hoover, in the White House in 1929 when the economy collapsed and left the Great Depression in its wreckage. The title could have graced an ironically intended composition by Woody Guthrie, in whose songs the trail of dust led, as it did in the real lives of his fellow Okies, in the opposite direction. The label takes its name from an old fiddle tune.

So the music, all original, is built on the foundational likes of Guthrie, the Carter Family and Hank Williams, with echoes of revival folk singers, bluegrass outfits and the Band. Guitarist and vocalist John Bemis, who at times ("Dirt Road," "Old, Old River") sings in a voice all but indistinguishable from the younger John Prine's, has written seven of the 13 cuts, with multi-instrumentalist Greg Hanson and bassist Paul Dowds separately contributing the rest.

All of this is comfortably rooted, and the material is solid and likable, if unspectacular. I actually prefer consistency of this sort to its more frequently encountered alternative, which is the album housing a horde of forgettable nonentities but for one or two beauties that just won't give you peace. Those are the kinds of albums I always grow to despise. Follow That Trail, on the other hand, I expect to stay fond of.

To my own tastes, the standout is Bemis's "Jefferson Davis Blues," the one cut arranged as an old-time stringband piece. In North Carolina, where the band members reside, kicking the Confederate president's memory and legacy may rub some folks seriously -- maybe even trigger-itchingly -- the wrong way, so give the guys credit for something like cheek or courage or both. Here's the last verse:

I found his coffin in Mississippi, the home of the brave
I found his coffin in Mississippi
Please put those nails in his coffin and lay him in a cold, cold grave.

Hooverville co-produces with the dependably downhome-savvy James (Jimbo) Mathus. Together they set the songs inside a pleasing, largely acoustic country-rock sound that feels more genuine than anything you're going to hear on, say, a Gram Parsons album.

by Jerome Clark
13 January 2007

Buy it from Amazon.com.