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3hattrio - Lord of the Desert (Okehdokee Records)

3hattrio are a band physically and musically rooted in the American desert southwest and their sacred homeland near Utah's Zion National Park. This is the sound of the Americana of the distant hills and bleached animal skulls of Georgia O'Keefe paintings. Desert music as grounded in a place as the sound of the wind whipping through a weather sculpted canyon or a distant wheeling bird of prey. At its core 3hattrio are acoustic good time porch bluegrass bleached and worn by the sun with some hypnotic 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' vocal harmonies. But it is sprinkled with weirdness and a  supersized side order of strange, the musical equivalent of staring into the sun. Dust Devils is a wonderful jig tune, with some fine group vocals. Except that the Banjo thinks it's a Saharan Oud, the phased vintage microphone vocals have a touch of the Captain Beefheart and the rythmn section of Bass and percussion weaves a crazy peyote dance. Pilgrim is a kind of dub bluegrass, again with rich vocals and a kind of Native American chant mid-section. Eli Wrankle's phased electric violin crackles and snarls on this track. Night Sky is an expansive soundscape with the desert landscape laid out around and over you. Splashes of percussion, Wrankles violin, flashes or Hal Cannon's electric and Ry Cooderesque slide capture the endless overhead sky and the infinite open space. Next album needs to have a DVD. Sublime utterly sublime. In Our Hands starts innocuously, but again twists in your ears, with looped studio chatter and a minimalist one-line refrain that becomes hypnotic. The vocals though the album have the timbre of Robert Fisher from the excellent Willard Grant Conspiracy.

At times while listening to this album the opening of Hunter S Thompson's career and genre defining book 'Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas' ran unprompted through my head. At times "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold" summed up the gloriously blissed psychedelic mist this music spun around me. I was in that crazy open top car on a journey to excess while prehistoric bat creatures swoop overhead. Faith as well as being one of the most arrestingly original tracks on a consistently striking album is that moment perfectly. Autotune, the saccharine sheen applied to pop and country pop alike is here used to create something gloriously beautiful and savagely strange. Greg Istock's vocal blends the melancholic whine of the singer songwriter with twisted autotuned to create something that is captivating and hypnotic over a simple banjo refrain and a distant soaring violin, Magnificently woozy and damaged, the words become a post-modern collage of sounds. I Am features another glorious vocal refrain like a shamanistic Dr John glimpsed through a swirling Gris Gris voodoo dub fog. Istocks stopping and slapping Jazz Double Bass grounds this wonderfully abstract piece, as big grin crazy as the middle of a John Martyn live acoustic exposition. Wasteland of Yesterday is a plaintive ballad that lands us after the earlier miasma, showing that 3hattrio are an outfit with layers, twists and depths. Skeleton Tree and Motel are by turns another expansive instrumental and a shamanistic autotune blues jig. Repeated listening doesn't dull the feeling that this is unlike anything else you have heard before. Wont Help is another album highlight, a lullaby as languid as the best of JJ Cale with a killer bass riff and a vocal as emotional as slurred and as jazz as the best of Dr John, John Lee Hooker or John Martyn, perfect come down music. Lord Of The Desert is a mission statement from the land and sky that the band inhabit with a perfect worn cracked vocal like the best of Tom Russell, Willie Nelson or Guy Clark. Jim Morrison that shamanistic peyote lizard king, would have killed to be this lyrical, this vital, to have this much integrity and to capture a moment in a place so perfectly. There is a final violin sweep and some bass notes then the album fades leaving you breathless and wondering. I have either missed the bus with 3hattrio and everyone is already lost in this and their aother albums. Or this is an exciting discovery of a gloriously unique band blazing away documenting their corner of the world and demanding to be heard.

Marc Higgins
Northern Sky