(Listen Here! Records, CD)
West Townsend’s Hungrytown is composed of wife-and-husband duo Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson. The pair has carved quite a niche in the modern folk scene, not only as Hungrytown but also as members of neo-traditionalist outfit The Strangelings, and on the considerable strength of Hall’s solo work. They have been recognized at a number of songwriting contests, such as those at the Billboard Annual fest, the Minnesota Folk Festival and the Great Waters Music Festival. Roger McGuinn, co-founder of folk-rock godfathers The Byrds, praised Hall’s voice as having “a sweetness and a worldly wisdom in perfect balance.” After spending some time with Hungrytown, I’m inclined to agree.
On this self-titled debut release, the band’s lauded songwriting strength is evident. The nine original tunes rest comfortably alongside two traditional folk songs and a cover of Gene Clark’s “With Tomorrow.” Folky balladry, upbeat country, bluegrass and even a bit of rock ’n’ roll are all featured on the album. This eclecticism serves the band well and gives the production an engaging dynamic. The musicians are skilled enough to make it all sound natural and have a nice, smooth flow.
Hall’s guitar work and vocals provide the framework for every song, while Anderson provides harmonies and instrumental accompaniment, including drums, bass, organ and harmonica. Hungrytown also features members of the bluegrass band The Virginia Ramblers and “subversive” folk-rockers The Mammals on fiddle, cello, banjo and mandolin. If there are any virtuosos among them, there’s no way of knowing; the arrangements are sparse, the playing restrained.
Hall’s vocals are wonderful, pitch-perfect and rich in emotion, perfectly paired with Anderson’s harmonies. The vocal arrangements range from simple to lush.
Hungrytown recalls a number of performances past and present — shades of Judee Sill, Emmylou Harris, Neko Case and The Byrds. (I’d personally love to hear this band perform The Byrds’ version of Charles Louvin’s “The Christian Life.”)
Hungrytown is an accomplished and enjoyable folk record. It is both haunting and pleasant, delicate yet arresting. Hall and Anderson have cultivated a wonderful musical rapport that will endear them to many as they continue to tour and record.