Whenever Scott Hrabko plays in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, whether it’s just Hrabko and his guitar at a song circle or a Saturday night show at a local used bookstore with one of the many permutations of his band The Rabbits, people come for the music—and they leave talking about the way he works with words. Hrabko’s rootsy songs are filled with trap doors, hidden nooks, and secret passageways. They’re like those dreams within comfortably familiar houses that suddenly have brand new rooms.
Hrabko re-emerged on the local scene two years ago with the wonderful Gone Places, the classic “overnight sensation” twenty years in the making. With Biscuits and Gravity, his second release in less than two years, Hrabko’s songwriting starts in traditional country veins and then works outward, with generous splashes of western swing and the blues, and with big doses of Jack Kerouac’s continental wandering and wordplay. (The title is a perfect example, but it seems important to note that the rest of the line, from the sultry down-and out blues “Ordinary Guy,” is “It’s down to coffee spo-dee-o-dee/Biscuits and gravity.”)
Live, Hrabko is as comfortable covering Sons of the Pioneers as he is unearthing Michael Hurley classics (Hurley’s “O My Stars” is covered here), and that range charts out Hrabko’s working territory—a big one—relatively accurately. Biscuits starts with the straight-ahead country of “Died & and Gone To Heaven,” the tale of an unwise, illicit and perfect affair (“She had the answer to the question/’what have we got to lose?’”) With lines like “with a lonesome load of laundry/and abandoned band of gold,” the heaven (and the affair, and the death) become more and more real. Those potential tongue twisters continue with lines “Let her love letters flutter/to the gutters of Memory Lane” in “Lorraine,” and Hrabko’s gentle baritone effortlessly fires up and over the words…and digs the memories in just a little deeper.
One of the album’s highlights is the song “I Dreamed I Quit My Job,” a hint of where Hrabko might have been stashed away all those years. Sounding like a long lost J.J. Cale classic, the song is filled with touches of slop mopping, “clean-ups on Aisle 11,” and general employment misery. But the song suddenly focuses on one forlorn detail in the workplace: “We got a drawer full of rotten rubber bands/and fortune cookie dust/and the personal belongings of several ex-employees/”El-Dorado or bust.” Hrabko’s songs are filled with these photographic and discomfiting moments of clarity, and they just keep on coming. (The song closes with a comical—and hearfelt—chant of “What are you gonna do now?” and the rattled answer “I don’t know.”)
The permanent Rabbits, with Josh Arnold’s liquid bass lines and Emily Tummons’ gorgeous vocals (and accordion), are a vital part of every tune, along with a cast of local all-stars like guitarist Kirk Scott as “Rabbits Emeritus.” By the time Hrabko hits his stride in a song like “California Got My Baby,” he’s like an Americana Mose Allison, doing intricate thing with lyrics and melody that others simply do not try. This is what Hrabko does now.