Hook & Anchor are a new Portland, Oregon-based band with something of a pedigree. Bringing together Blind Pilot’s Kati Claborn, Luke Ydstie, and Ryan Dobrowski with veteran old time specialist Gabrielle Macrae (of The Macrae Sisters), and Erik Clampitt of Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck and Power of County, all of the individual members of the band add in touches of their own personal style, with Claborn on banjo and guitar, Clampitt electric guitar and pedal steel, Macrae fiddle, banjo, guitar and Ydstie and Dobrowski on bass and piano and drums respectively. Different members of the band add lead vocals at different times, with the overall feel one of ‘country, folk, and rock and roll, with every track pushing definitions across a new border’.
The new album has been recorded in a mostly live setting with Type Foundry’s Adam Selzer on production duties. After the country stylings of opener Famously Easy, we are presented with the clawhammer banjo of Wild Wind. The five-string blends with the rock feel of the track, which later reaches almost Fleetwood Mac heights, before descending into Macrae’s old time fiddle. The record really gets into its stride with the joy of Concerning Spectral Pinching, which begins with an old time/bluegrass feel to it, with the vocals fitting in with the fiddle and bass of the intro, only to restart with more pace, converting to a rambling, country style – an interesting juxtaposition which shows how the band can handle both sides of the coin together. The song works well – flowing, soaring, and positive – with the reach of styles well controlled, and the band holding a power over the music and their arrangements.
Light Of The Moon is a great song, direct, capable, and thrilling, which both taps into the spirit of the music and takes it to new places. Resounding fiddle moves the sound up and out, resulting in a warm, happy feeling as the music reaches further into your soul. The feeling continues with the more lonesome, contemplative No, It’s Not, as the drums move in around the stringed instruments, allowing the song to rise up, and outwards, with a hymnal quality which is a feature of Hook & Anchor. This hymnal idea continues on Hammer, with the bands’ voices intertwining to produce an elegiac feeling.
Blackbird shows how deep the band’s commitment to their music runs, with both strength and depth to a country arrangement which will pull at your heart, and Fine Old Times proves that they can pull off delicate and subtle as well. The album closes with the heavenly, angelic Rock, Salt & Nails, which has a simple, traditional feel to it, reflecting the real life, real songs and real music of the entire project.
Hook & Anchor is a strong, sweet record, evocative and full of emotions, played out using a number of different combinations of sound which work really well, and that the band have obviously thought in great detail about. The sound is convincing (as evidenced on songs like Hard Times), and the interesting line up and songs should serve as a model for other bands.
The album is released July 22, 2014, via Jealous Butcher and Woodphone Records.