Houndstooth Bindles are a relatively new band in the Columbus scene, having formed only about a year ago, but they sure hit the ground running. Over the last year, HTB have established themselves as one of this town’s high energy string-type bands, signed with local Singing Moon Records, and now are releasing their first EP. I had time recently to sit down and take in the Bindles’ first recorded venture.
Houndstooth Bindles are a tough act to pin down, stylistically. Easy comparisons could be drawn to the Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons because of the high energy banjo and mandolin sounds, but just because they all share amped up elements of old-timey string bands doesn’t make them the same, or even similar. HTB describe their own music as “similar to bluegrass, but stylistically we draw more from folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, with added punk tempos and aesthetic.” Their description is accurate.
Houndstooth Bindles have no dedicated front man to speak of, but the majority of the vocals on the self-titled EP are performed by Nick Johnson and Virginia Pishioneri. Nick and Virginia can each hold their own on songs they perform individually, and they sing together like they’ve been playing out for more than one short year.
The album smartly begins with Daddy’s Farm. This is the perfect way for a new listener to become acquainted with HTB. Bassist Bill Wolfe and Drummer Jesse Pearson hold down the beat while it jumps back and forth to half-time, and Houndstooth Bindles’ secret weapon, fiddler Lois Kwa, throws a white cotton sheet of sweet country fiddle across the entire track. Daddy’s Farm is an argument between a man and his woman about leaving the country for the city. The lyric is a poignant first track because HTB have a sound that holds its country roots in instrumentation and feel, yet there is an unmistakable sense of “big city” urgency throughout.
The six track EP is strong in its traditional string band sounds with Where There’s a River’s mandolin and fiddle intro, but it also shows the band’s versatility in songs like Rise and Rosetta, which reminds me of Dylan’s Hurricane for some reason—probably the great fiddle lines.
The gem on the EP is Graveyard Grass. Virginia sings the story of love lost in a seemingly careless and unapologetic manner that somehow makes the loss sting just that much more.
“This graveyard grass is wild and tall, the sun is high and warm
If I just hadn’t screwed up you’d be mine just like before
We could both whisper sweet songs to the souls passing alone
As it is, there’s just a bunch of bones.”
It’s one of the most “old-timey” on the EP, and it sounds absolutely genuine. The song reads like it was written on a 1920’s riverboat and hidden away until the Bindles’ got a hold of it. It even ends with some sultry scat to solidify the feel.
No critique is complete without being critical, but there are very few critical things to say about the musicians on this album. The sole glowing issue is that the album doesn’t sound polished. I imagine that there was a bit of a feeling that, as the first recording by a new band, the process was rushed to have a product in hand. It comes through. That said, the energy is there, which is often lost in a trade-off for a polished record. Having seen the band live several times, it’s impossible to bottle their stage show digitally, but they did a nice job of getting close. There are just a few vocal notes that should have been overdubbed, but, judging by this 6 song EP alone, Singing Moon Records made the right choice in bringing Houndstooth Bindles into their already strong stable of local musicians.
Houndstooth Bindles will release their self-titled EP on Friday, Jan. 13 at Cafe Bourbon Street. The $5 cover will get you in to see Allie and the Redbuds, The Wayfarers and, of course Houndstooth Bindles. For another $5 you can pick up their EP, and it’s absolutely worth it.