Humming House - Humming House
By: Stormy Lewis
Alt-country has been pushing the boundaries of country music for nearly three decades now, fusing old school rockabilly with new school punk and a wealth of bluegrass more inspired by The Pogues than Bill Monroe. Humming House is the latest band to try to break something new into this formula with their debut album. For the most part, they succeed. Their debut album is a mischievous, foot stomping collections of songs that evoke Old Crow Medicine Show, early Ryan Adams and BR549 without ever imitating them. Lead by singer/songwriter Justin Wade Tam the band throws everything, including a singing saw, into their music to excellent effect. Humming House’s debut is a ruckus, jubilant good time.
The band sets he tone with the opening “Gypsy Django” a tribute to jazz musician Django Reinhardt. The song finds Justin Wade Tam highlighting his ukulele with a wit that encompasses both the improvisational nature of jazz and the sweet ease of Island life. The band follows this up with “Stop Me Still” a barn burner that finds Tam’s rich baritone playing off Kristen Roger’s elegant alto “Cold Chicago” is a pretty ballad of wanderlust, focused around the travels of a guitar. Joshua Wolak’s mandolin takes front and center as Tam softens his voice into a softer, prettier and more lonesome sound. The music becomes less frenetic and more jovial on the almost deliberately retro “Mrs. Wurley.” “When we hear his sweet old soul untied, lay it down on the mountain side” the band sings wistfully. “Baltimore Boats” is a tender, lilting ballad that follows Wolak’s lovely mandolin. “Lift you head my childhood friend,” Tam croons, in a voice both sweet and resonant. “Dawn” finds the mandolin and ukulele chasing each other around lightly, like school children stepping from rock to rock in a creek. This interlude opens into “When Dawn Becomes the Day,” a joyous song that continues to rely on the interplay between mandolin and ukelele. The plucking of these soft, stringed instruments perfectly reflects the sunny sentiments of the song. “Tower Park” opens with a stronger sway, less syncopated yet more off kilter rhythm. “A two step smile and a fox trot wink, as the bandstand plays the wedding march,” Tam sings, before observing “She’s a pretty thing and he looks real nice. “ “Southern Seamstress” finds Tam sounding more like Raul Malo than a casual listener might this possible. This is a pretty, harmony laden track, whose execution more than makes up for occasional lazy writing choices. The band follows up a reference to “Eyes on the Island” with a brief Gypsy meets Caribbean fling of a musical track. “The driving gets dark sometimes, but the headlights are always sincere,” Tam growls in “Gasoline.” It is a darker track than the rest of the album, haunting and almost sinister with it crashing percussion and tightly wound mandolin riffs. The album closes with “Young Enough to Try” an intriguing, mission statement of a ballad. The song celebrates having time to make mistakes and recover from the injuries one might sustain jumping blindly into a leap of faith.
Humming House, as a band, follows a fairly standard formula. They are another band in the long line of post Neko Case meets post OCMS acts that have hit the scene in the past decade. However, they do bring a few things to the table. For starters, they are fronted by Justin Wade Tam, who has a voice that is elastic in its range and elegant in its execution. More importantly, they have a sense of fearlessness that allows them make the kinds of musical choices that lift their music far above the average. From any band, this would be a good album, but from a new band it is darned close to perfect.