Courtesy: Robust Records
Six years ago The Morning After released its debut album Starless Nights. The eleven-song record was an impressive first effort from the Raleigh, North Carolina-based sextet. After extensive touring and writing, the band finally released its sophomore album Wonder & Fury four years later. Sadly it looks as though that album would also be the band’s last as the band has apparently gone on an indefinite hiatus. In its place former members Hank Smith and Pattie Hawkins Kinlaw joined forces to start a new band, Hank, Pattie, and The Current. The band recently released its debut album on the Chapel Hill, NC-based label Robust Records. The fourteen-song, fifty-two minute record is a welcome return for the duo and its new band mates. Largely gone are the poppier sounds crafted by The Morning After. They have been replaced here by a mix of pure folk and bluegrass. Kinlaw’s vocals are just as powerful as ever. And Smith’s own work on the banjo is just as impressive. The added talents of the duo’s fellow musicians enrich the album even more. The end result is an album that gives great hope that Smith and Kinlaw have finally hit on something and are finally on the right path. It is one of the year’s top new offerings in the combined fields of folk, bluegrass, country, and Americana.
Hank, Pattie, and The Current is a good new start for Hank Smith and Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw. Unlike the duo’s work in their previous band the songs featured in this record present an album that comes across as being far more focused. That is evident as the “poppy” sounds so common in that work have been replaced by a purer combination of bluegrass, folk, and Americana. One of the songs that best exemplifies the noted bluegrass sound is ‘Travelin’ Man.’ The song comes almost halfway through the album’s fifty-two minute run time. In regards to its musical content, this is as pure as bluegrass can get. It is very much akin to the work that Smith composed on his 2014 album Impulse alongside Lindsay Tims. Even in a supporting role here Smith is impressive in his picking. Mrs. Kinlaw is just as deserving of credit thanks to her work on the fiddle. Of course vocalist Benjamin Parker can’t be ignored either as he sings about…well…a traveling man. He is a man with no roots and apparently just can’t settle down no matter how hard he tries. Parker’s subject notes this as he sings, “I’ve been in and out of places/And it’s always hard to stay/Try to tell the ladies I’m broken/Try to fend them all away/When they see that handsome stranger/Their hearts are sure to cave/And as far back as I can remember/I’ve traveled ‘cross this land/So baby/Try not to be tempted/’Cause I’m a travelin’ man.” He even goes so far as to note his efforts to settle down, singing, “Try to do some changes/Make my habits like the rest/Settle down and make a living/But that didn’t pass the test/So rev up the engines/And let’s go someplace fine/But keep that tank full, baby/Cause I’ll be leavin’ in your time.” Simply put this is a man who cannot sit still no matter how hard he tries. It just isn’t in his nature. It is a timeless lyrical theme used throughout the history of bluegrass and country. And it works just as well here as in the countless cases in which it has been used before. The energy exhibited in the song’s musical content couples with Parker’s lyrics and his vocal swagger to show clearly why this song is one of this record’s highest points. They also collectively help to exhibit the previously noted focus present throughout this record. In whole it is just one song that serves to show that focus. ‘Better Life’ is another of the record’s offerings that shows said focus.
‘Travelin’ Man’ is an excellent example of the focus presented throughout the course of Hank, Pattie & The Current. The song’s hybrid country/bluegrass sound and its timeless lyrical theme couple with the swagger in vocalist Benjamin Parker’s delivery to make it a song that every bluegrass and country fan should hear and will want to hear. It is as pure as country and bluegrass can get. It is just one of the songs included in this record that exhibits the group’s focus. ‘Better Life’ is another song that exhibits that focus. The Americana style sound of the song’s musical arrangement forms the song’s foundation. Between Smith and Kinlaw’s own work and that of their fellow musicians, the arrangement in question presents itself as a beautiful and moving composition. It is a gentle, flowing piece that will touch listeners at their deepest points even without the song’s lyrical content. What is interesting is the song’s choice of lyrical content. It delivers a handful of stories that are classic country through and through. They are stories of life’s difficult situations beginning with a story of a person helping friends move away after trying so hard to keep the situation from happening. There is also a short little story about a person working hard, trying to make a life for himself and his family. It all ends with a person sitting at a bar, drinking his sorrows away after having lost his woman. From one story to the next Kinlaw and Parker tug so hard at listeners’ heart strings as they present the stories. This is so important to note because in reality, without the addition of those stories, this song honestly would have been a completely different composition had it been just an instrumental piece. Its musical arrangement alone gives the song a completely different, more optimistic vibe. Keeping in mind all of this it becomes clear why ‘Better Life’ is another important addition to Hank, Pattie & The Current. It shows a real, clear focus among the musicians. It still is not the last song that exemplifies that focus, either. ‘Wilkesboro Waltz’ is yet another wonderful example of that focus.
‘Travelin’ Man’ and ‘Better Life’ are both wonderful examples of the focus presented by Smith, Kinlaw, and their fellow musicians in the group’s debut self-titled LP. The prior is a pure bluegrass piece that also presents a hint of country both in its musical arrangement and its lyrical theme. The latter is a beautiful, moving piece that will touch listeners in so many ways thanks to its lyrical and musical content. The musical content alone presents a moving piece that presents a rather positive vibe. However, that vibe completely changes with the addition of its lyrical content. That dual presentation makes this song one of the album’s highest points and most important additions. As important as both songs are to the album’s presentation they are not the album’s only important songs. ‘Wilkesboro Waltz’ is one more example of the focus presented throughout this record. The song is a completely instrumental composition. Its gentle, flowing melody, conjures images of warm summer sunrises in the North Carolina mountains, the dew drying on the plants, and fog from the night before gently lifting as the hours pass. From the melody to the two-part harmony the song boasts a pure folk sound that even harkens back to the European roots of the style. It is a sound that every lover of folk, Americana, bluegrass, and country will appreciate. It is just one more prime example of what makes this record such an impressive debut from Hank, Pattie & The Current. Together with the album’s other offerings it proves in the end to be a solid new beginning for Smith, Kinlaw, and their new band mates, and hopefully one that will lead to a long and fruitful career for years to come.
Hank, Pattie & The Current is only the first full-length offering from Hank Smith, Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw, and their new band mates. Even being their first, there is a wholly noticeable difference between this group and The Morning After, Smith and Kinlaw’s previous band. This record is so much more focused than those of The Morning After. Its sound is more directed and pure. Its lyrical content adds to that focus. The songs noted here are prime examples of that focus. The songs not noted here could just as easily be cited in that argument. All things considered Hank, Patti & The Current proves in the end to be a solid new beginning for Smith, Kinlaw, and their new band mates. Hopefully it is only the beginning in a long and fruitful career for the band. More information on Hank, Pattie & The Current is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news, tour updates and more at:
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