Album Review

Revelries - Humming House

Humming House - Revelries

This review is late. Very late. Having promised Humming House’s publicist a review almost three months ago, I sheepishly submit this review in hopes that she sees it before sending me a bill for my promo copy of Revelries. To be fair, my procrastination should not be taken as a slight. In fact, quite the opposite. Revelries has become such a comfortable and pleasurable part of my life that writing a review began to feel somewhat redundant. I mean, surely people don’t need me to tell them how great the album is, right? Also, and to be fair, I’ve played the album for many of my friends, talked it up, and even tried to see the band in concert[1]; it’s not like I haven’t done anything to promote the album. But publicists send out promo copies with certain expectations. So, please ignore whatever bad attitude creeps into the tone of this review; that’s just me being pissed off at myself for accepting the free promo copy instead of buying the album. I don’t want to write about Revelries; I want to listen to it.

 

If you’re not listening to Humming House, it may very well be due to the fact that you’re unfamiliar with the Nashville based folk/roots-rock band. Which I find odd, because Humming House is a band that’s been buzzing around music conversations for a few years now. I know that over the last three years, I’ve frequently had friends excitedly tell me about this great new band that they’ve discovered. In fact, if I remember correctly, that’s how I originally “discovered” Humming House - a friend raving about the band's self-titled debut album. I don’t remember which friend, but it was apparently a friend whose musical acumen I respect[2], because here I am, three years later, returning the favor by raving about Revelries, the latest album from Humming House.

 

Revelries demonstrates that while the folk/roots-rock of Humming House may be wonderfully planted in tradition, the band is not afraid to explore whatever genre/sound best serves the song. Of course, it helps that Humming House is made up of excellent musicians who bring a variety of experiences to the table. This strength is on full display in one of the album’s most beautiful songs, “I Am a Bird.” With the part-show tune/part-jazz vocals of Leslie Rodriguez soaring over Ben Jones’ thumping bass that would fit into the best jazz clubs, “I Am a Bird” showcase’s Humming House’s ability to take the best of different genres and wrap them with their own band coherency that strays just far enough from their signature sound as to elicit surprise, but never far enough away as to allow the listener to forget they’re listening to Humming House. Make no mistake, Humming House is, first and foremost, a folk/roots-rock band.

 

I think that one of the things that people fear before taking the plunge into folk/roots-rock is the belief that the genre takes itself too seriously and is simply not much fun. There are definitely some bands and fans that help perpetuate that stereotype; but, on the flip side, there are bands, like The Rev Peyton’s Big Damn Band and Humming House label mates Grace & Tony, that musically scoff at the pretensions of city-folk who want to raise free-range chickens in their Williamsburg studio apartments. Humming House, reflecting their status alongside the best balls-to-the-wall Americana musicians, knows that acoustic roots instruments were also, if not primarily, meant for partying, and not just for salt-of-the-earth navel-gazing.

 

From the first chords and the deceptively plaintive-yet-not-plaintive voice of Justin Wade Tam, the opening track, “Run With Me,” clues the listener in to the fact that while the band may have some interesting things to say, those interesting things are best heard while enjoying a bowl of homemade peach ice cream or a mason jar of your crazy uncle’s moonshine – or combined, no reason to have to pick your poison. Better yet, those interesting things from the band only achieve full resonance when heard in the jovial company of family and friends. That means, of course, that “Run With Me” will need to be played through speakers turned up to full blast to be heard over the din of the down-home party. Thankfully, the song lends itself to full-on loud. And, to the band’s credit, very loud does not take away from the catchy melody and intricately woven harmonies; believe me, I tried[3]

 

Revelries contains eleven tracks of wonderfully crafted folk/roots-rock party music, but track six, “This Hell Where We

Belong,” has a special place in the pantheon of Americana music released in 2015. I don’t know how things get nominated for Grammy awards[4], but I’d like to throw “This Hell Where We Belong” into the hopper for consideration for the Grammy Award’s Song of the Year. You longtime fans of roots music may sneer at this, and if you do, you’ll be wrong, but the opening of the song tricks the listener into wondering if Humming House, halfway through Revelries, decided to switch things up and record a techno album. Stay with me. Five seconds into the track, the acoustic guitars and mandolin kick in, but that driving beat remains. Americana meets Friday night house parties[5]. Better yet, oh so much betterfully and beautifully yet, the voice of Rodriguez gives the listener vertigo.  She sinks into the lyrics and then explodes out with a wash of emotion that is, for a lack of a better word, mesmerizing. I realize that I’m floundering here, and if you read footnote #5, you realize that I understand that. But, “This Hell Where We Belong,” which is dominating my earbuds as I write this, has reduced me to a mere fanboy who now has a crush on Humming House, specifically a Leslie Rodriguez fronted Humming House[6].

 

This review is now almost twelve-hundred words, and I haven’t even written about the Irish-tinged ballad “The Love That We’ve Made,” to pick, basically at random, one song out of the excellent eight other tracks that I didn’t write about; nor have I mentioned how impressive the fiddling of Bobby Chase is and how much I love the mandolin playing of Josh Wolak. And I want to mention those things. For one thing, when I finally meet the band, and I will meet the band[7], I want Bobby and Josh to like me. Because I love their musicianship that Revelries puts on full display, and I like being friends with cool musicians. But, because I waited too long to write this review, I’m having trouble focusing on aspects of an album that I love. In fact, as I write this, “Atlantic” has now catapulted “This Hell Where We Belong” as my favorite Humming House song. If I keep stalling, this three month late review may end up over three thousand words, and that could be construed as overcompensation and pandering to the band on my part, and if I don’t have my journalistic integrity, I don’t have anything. To wrap this up, buy the album. Buy it for two reasons: 1. Revelries is an awesome album! 2. It will help assuage my guilt for procrastinating. And, Krista Mettler from Skye Media, I promise to never take this long to write a review again.  

Buy Revelries and other Humming House merchandise here.    

 

 

[1] Couldn’t find a babysitter. Or, to be more accurate, we couldn’t find a DC area babysitter on short notice that didn’t charge our grocery budget for the week.

[2] Many of my friends like to tell me about music they like. I’ve learned to ignore many of those friends.

[3] My neighbors, whether they know the name of the band or not, have heard Revelries several dozen times.

[4] Which may very well preclude me from having any authority to write about music. Tell you what, buy Revelries and then, after listening to it, come back to this review and leave a comment letting me know if I’m a complete fraud or not.

[5] I originally wrote “Americana meets John Garabedian Open House Party,” but, after thinking about it, realized that wasn’t as much of a compliment as I intended. And, yes, what I switched it to isn’t much better, but the sentiment is what counts. I mean well.

[6] My apologies to Justin Wade Tam. He has a great voice, too. … oh, and, let the record show that I actually checked with my wife to make sure that she was ok with that sentence. So, Leslie, we’re good … wink, wink.

[7] Humming House, your publicist has my address if you need to know where to send the restraining order to.

John Ellis, I don't blame you for lagging in this review. I've been in posession of my promo copy for weeks and it's impressive. However, I did take the time to interview Justin Wade Tam for my radio show. I've posted the interview as well as music from all their releases in a podcast. Check it out if you get a chance. Justin is a very well spoken guy and as principal songwriter deserves a bit more attention in your review (IMHO). Can't disagree with Leslie's incredible addition to the bands sound. You can find the interview in the podcast archive of wmua.org

My americana show is called Nine Volt Heart and is streamable live on wmua.org Sunday afternoons from 3-5pm