The Hello Strangers
Country, Contemporary folk
The Honeycutters, Dixie Chicks, The Indigo Girls
Country music is a style of folk music, as is blues, bluegrass, and Celtic. Much of the contemporary country coming out over the last decade has been infused with more pop than folk. Country has taken on the flavor of more commercial pop corporate America. Modern country essentially came off the evolution of the Nashville scene building upon rock and pop electric and repetitive hooks, while folk for the most part stayed the path of social conscience and grass roots rudimentary instruments. Every now and then a country act pops up sparking our interest to put in heavy rotation. The Hello Strangers hailing from Pennsylvania have done just that. While the backbone of their sound may of the country flavor, they do an excellent job of blending in folk.
The band's latest self-titled set is anchored by Larissa Chace Smith and Brechyn Chace. The two sisters have a very warm and inviting sound and do not disappoint in the harmony department. To be frank, the first track, 'Runaway' really roped us in here. One of the top tracks on the album with its melancholy acoustic intro reminding us of a Ray Lamontagne track. The next track, 'What it takes to break a heart' is a quintessential country mainstream tune with its repetitive melody. Pound for pound taken against any other pop country tune, they do a very nice job. Its not easy to keep our attention when carrying out this pre-packaged formula. The next track 'What You Don't Know' is a cover song and terrific cut featuring the original performer Jim Lauderdale's vocals midway through. His deeper voice works very well and the song has some very dark undertones that we enjoy. After just four tracks, you really get a sense for the diversity of music the Hello Strangers bring to the table. Slide guitar, acoustic, violin, piano, are all rolled out. Witty lyrics continue to unfold as you delve further into the album. The album also features a second cover song in 'Que Sera, Sera' apparently an homage to Ronald Chase, their grandfather, who sang with Doris Day. On “Chances,” the harmonies really hit their stride. This is another very strong track that really keeps the listener engaged. The production and crisp sound on this track are tremendous.
Overall the musicianship and chemistry amongst band members is very strong. While the spotlight is on the two sisters, there is a tremendous wealth of additional musicians:
Spencer Pheil - electric guitar
Steve Ivey - electric guitar, keyboards, piano, percussion, bass guitar, dobro, bouzouki, mandolin, back up vocals
Kerry Marx - electric guitars
Tommy Harden - drums and percussion
Eddie Dunlap - pedal steel
Wanda Vick - viola
Catherine Marx - keyboards & accordion
Cissy Crutcher - background vocal on “What You Don't Know”
Jim Lauderdale - lead and background vocal on "What You Don't Know"
Bar Background vocals - Ethan Nichols, Cody Blonder, Dave Dinsmore
Sparky Jones - Mixing keygrip
The Hello Strangers have created a nice eclectic mix of songs with a clear affinity towards the folk traditions, modern indie rock , and of course rooted in Texas country-folk. Their use of imagery and storytelling is refreshing. Themes such as tales from boggy creek, to murder, to bar room chicanery make for a varied experience.
We do not think it will take much for the Hello Strangers to catch some momentum and gain some mainstream popularity. Their very polished website and splashes of media/PR efforts will play well in keeping this momentum. It also does not hurt that the two are quite attractive and pleasing to the eye. While we are the first to admit that country music may not be in our wheelhouse, we can tell you that this is a very good album. One that has gained heavy rotation and will be a "go to" album whenever we do crave that country vibe. - 11/3/2014
2- What It Takes to Break A Heart
3- What You Don't Know
4- Never Roam Again
8- Holy Unholy
10- Poor Dear
11- The World Knows Far Better Than Me
12- Oh He'll Drown
13- Que, Sera, Sera
Standout Tracks: Chances, You Don't Know