Hog Branch – Hog Branch
Blue Vada Records – 2022
10 tracks; 48 minutes
This is a debut album from a seasoned group of Austin musicians: Rick Watson on bass, Will Daniel on sax, Matt Schmidt on guitar, Dave Aaronoff on keys and Michael Bahan on drums; everyone contributes on vocals, all bar drummer Michael taking the lead on some of the tunes. Guests on one track include vocalist Nicole Tenneyuque, guitarist Nick Gonzales, drummer Rubin Nizri and string instrumentalist Grace Youn, while recording engineer Matt Parmenter also adds backing vocals to one cut.
The band plays a mixture of covers and originals, the style being generally at the funky end of the spectrum, as witnessed by the three opening cuts. Kool & The Gang’s “Let The Music Take Your Mind” is almost an instrumental with its insistent rhythms and minimal vocals which more or less repeat the title, but offers plenty of opportunity for guitar, sax and keys to shine; Will and Rick wrote “Getting To The Groove” which fits its title, keeping up the danceable stuff, this time with almost rap-like vocals shared between the authors; an instrumental version of the Bee Gees’ “Nights On Broadway” is well done with sax and piano featured. Rick’s “Slow Grind” is sung by Matt, a blues with doom-laden lyrics before Will sings about what he needs in his life, a “Tahitian Pearl”, complete with a stately sax break.
Dave sings his own “Walking Papers”, his electric piano leading into a ballad with good harmonies and Will’s sax again attracting attention before Matt delivers a nicely poised solo with jazzy tinges. The name of the band apparently comes from the name of Rick’s family land in Louisiana where his mother grew up and played gospel and boogie piano, so, naturally, “Hog Back Strut” is a swampy instrumental with more strong sax work. The frequently covered “Careless Love” dates back to the 1920’s and is here credited to Ray Charles, though usually considered to be WC Handy’s song; this is not the strongest version of the song but provides an extended feature for Matt on guitar and vocals. The track with the guests is a jazzy tune entitled “Afraid I’ll Wake”, Nicole’s smooth vocals set over the light melody. As a bonus we get a live version of “Hottentot” which runs to almost seven minutes, Matt playing guitar that is almost in competition with the main riff, very much in keeping with the author of the tune, John Scofield, something of a jam to close the album.
With elements of funk, jazz and blues, Hog Branch has something for everyone.