Hat Fitz & Cara – Hand It Over
CD: 9 Songs, 37 Minutes
Styles: Roots, Country Blues, Folk
When musical icons make gigantic tracks, artists who follow in their footsteps work all the harder to leave their own mark. John Prine and Bonnie Raitt made history with their haunting hit “Angel from Montgomery.” Australia’s Hat Fitz and Cara attempt to capture that spirit on their fifth album, Hand It Over. As elusive as such an oeuvre proves, this duo does a decent job. They tap into the improvisational style of roots music, letting their vocals and instruments wander. Their nine tracks (eight originals and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Trimmed and Burning” are fine fodder for the imagination. Those who love prewar blues featuring acoustic guitar, slide guitar and banjo will find this CD an entertaining romp.
Married mavericks Hat Fitz (vocals, electric guitar, fretless banjo) and Cara Robinson (vocals, drums, and acoustic guitar) have clocked up a decade of worldwide touring, festival performances and album releases from their base of operations in southeast Queensland. “Fitzy” served his musical apprenticeship in the 1980s, touring around western Queensland and playing the show circuit with his father’s band, alongside boxing tent shows and rodeos. He still holds the record for the most consecutive shows at Byron Bay Bluesfest. Meanwhile, Cara was growing up in a commune on the other side of the world, living a gypsy lifestyle around various parts of the coast of Northern Ireland. Through a substitute teacher at school, she was introduced to the blues of Leadbelly, and to Atlantic soul at the age of 13 via a cassette tape. Together, they’ve won Blues Album of the Year at the 2013 Australian Chain Awards and UK Spiral Earth, Best Vocal of the Year at the 2015 Chain Awards, and were finalists in the 2015 IBC.
Performing along with Hat Fitz and Cara is Cye Wood on violin and viola for “Chiko Train.”
These two channel Prine and Raitt to mixed effect on their original numbers, beginning with “Step Up.” Sit back and savor Fitz’s slide guitar. The best song, however, is the third: “Hold On.” If you close your eyes, you’d swear Bonnie herself was singing. The harmony between these two is smooth yet smoking, as between two newlyweds. “Harbour Master” follows, with a beat that’ll make audiences play air guitar and air drums. As the album progresses, however, its experience becomes more eclectic. This is jam-session folk and blues, not polished studio blues. Later on, the end of “ADHD” will have some folks scratching their heads. Others will dig it.
Would more instrumental balance and structure help Hat Fitz and Cara gain more mainstream appeal abroad? Most likely, but then again, the mainstream isn’t what this team is aiming for. Hand It Over hearkens to an earlier era of folk and blues. That’s a great thing per se.