In “Root of the Industry,” the opening track on the June release The Holy Open Secret, Hoots & Hellmouth makes its seditious tendencies clear. Take a listen to this Roots Rock group without inspecting the lyrics and you might figure that their country-fried acoustic work is moonshine-making music without any teeth to it. That’s not the case.
While this group has its earnest, amicable moments, “Root” is an agrarian protest that denounces the destructive capabilities of capitalism. “So they tore up the orchard and planted a house,” it begins, “From the seeds of the industry/ To build a community/ It’s a crust for the mudpie/ That no one wants to eat.” By its end, the song becomes a lament that booms with rugged gusto: “So gather up your axes/Forget about paying your taxes/And hack your way to the root of the industry!” Almost every Holy Open composition is charged with this sort of wry, literate thunder.
Driven by guitarists/vocalists Sean Hoots and Andrew Gray (a nickname for the latter explains the “Hellmouth”), H&H’s sound has relatives in the likes of The Hackensaw Boys, Old Crow Medicine Show and Drive-By Truckers.
Equally comfortable with taking songs slow or turning up the pace, these scamps (whose ranks go as low as three and high as six) call Philadelphia home, not somewhere in the Deep South. The group’s twangy, mandolin-rich style seems like a throwback to the Dust Bowl era, but the band members insist that they’re rooted in the present.
If there's no other reason to give Hoots & Hellmouth a go, do it for the promising titles found on its self-titled album: “Two Hearts, a Snake and a Concubine,” “This Hand Is a Mighty Hand” and “West of Where the Sun Goes Down” could pass as names of Nelson Algren stories, which is a hell of a compliment.
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