CD: Red Haired Strangers’ “Hilltown Sessions”


(, 2009)

This is beautiful, old-school country stuff. Real back-porch country stuff; not contemporary radio “country” music.

Oh, sure there’s drums (courtesy Chris Scharl), but just enough to keep pushing the songs along and never so much that they get in the way.

Mostly, it’s a delightful balance of Joe Gumpper’s fiddle, John Rice’s guitar and Ryan Dunham’s harmonica, laced with some pedal steel (and dobro) from veteran Rick Morse. Rob McCuen jumps in to spice things up a bit on banjo and mandolin on a couple of tunes, and the band enlisted Courtney Blackwell on harmony vocals for Dunham’s honky-tonker, “Heartbreak Moonlight.”

Co-produced by the band and Dana Monteith (a veteran of jam-band pioneers Ominous Seapods, who has turned into a tasty Americana knob-twister at the board for such folks as Wiley Dobbs and Big Frank & the Bargain Bingers), there’s no slick production work here. Monteith and RHS know when to leave well enough alone and let the songs and the performances speak for themselves.

And these are solid, sturdy songs – a dozen original tunes deftly penned by either Dunham or Rice – that range from folk (Rice’s perfectly laid-back “Any Day”) to the NRPS/acoustic Dead vibe of Dunham’s chuggin’ “Stealin'” to the funky blues groove of Dunham’s “Assembly Line Woman.”

My personal fave is “Banjo,” a charming, uncluttered clawhammer banjo-harmonica instrumental duet. It’s simple. It’s short (1:30). And it’s oh so sweet…

The Red Haired Strangers are the organizers of the Roots Music Festival, which takes place at The Linda in Albany at 7pm on Saturday. In addition to RHS, the line-up of performers includes Sarah Pedinotti & Railbird (celebrating the release of their new EP), the Leigh Gibson Band (half of the award-winning bluegrass band the Gibson Brothers), the Heavenly Echoes Gospel Singers (one of Nippertown’s premier gospel ensembles), Palatypus (the reunion of the acoustic duo of Matt Durfee and Mike Poulopoulas Poulopoulos), the Blackwell Sinners (the sibling duo of Chris & Courtney Blackwell) and Michael Eck (who just released his first solo album in 10 years, “In My Shoes”). Tix are $15, and all proceeds go to the J.C. Club, which provided more than 87,000 hot meals to hungry kids in inner city Albany last year.

  1. Andrew Gregory says

    Rick Morse’s pedal steel with the Tern Rounders has been otherworldly.

  2. Michael Poulopoulos says

    Who’s Mike Poulopoulas? Ha…

    I love these guys…

  3. Greg says

    Oooops! Sorry, Mike. A thousand apologies…

  4. Michael Poulopoulos says

    No problem, Greg. I got a laugh out of it, and almost read right passed it… Then, I thought “did Matt replace me?” Ha…

    With a surname such as mine, one apology is far more than enough.

  5. Courtney Blackwell Rice says

    Due to scheduling glitches, the Roots Festival actually starts at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. You don’t want to miss the Blackwell Sinners! The Blackwell Sinners aren’t just brother/sister duo, we are a family of musicians! Can’t forget about dad who plays the lap steel and my husband, John Rice of the Red Haired Strangers, who plays the upright!

  6. Greg says

    Courtney – Both Howe Glassman at The Linda and Ryan Dunham of the Red Haired Strangers have assured me that Saturday’s concert starts at 7pm. Doors open at 6pm.

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