If the Hackensaw Boys had been around in any earlier era — say, the ‘20s or ‘30s — they might have been big stars. Known for their rousing blend of fiddles, banjos and high harmonies, they create a rousing party-pleasing sound that quickly turns any gathering into a scene of festive mayhem. That’s been enough to ensure their status as populist heroes, not to mention steady draws on the festival circuit, where they’ve garnered a well-earned reputation as provocateurs excelling at a kind of punk bluegrass that’s guaranteed to get the crowds dancing regardless of whether they lean towards hippies or hoedowns.
The band, based in Charlottesville Virginia, takes a tack similar to that of Old Crow Medicine Show, the Punk Brothers, the Howlin’ Brothers and other modern outfits that draw from the past to make an impression in the present. As evidenced by the various albums they’ve released thus far, their’s a sound once heard on back porches throughout the heartland, now brought to life with the stirring enthusiasm of would-be rock stars performing for appreciative audiences.
Nevertheless, it’s not so much a matter of reverence as it is the ability to make their own imprint on traditional trappings that distinguishes the Hackensaw Boys from their competition. Still, many of the songs on Charismo tap the same rustic roots as their revered predecessors, be it a mournful Appalachian ballad like “Content Not Seeking Thrills (Ain’t You)” or simply the down home delivery of “By and By” and “Limousin Lady.” However, earnest intents can be deceiving. “Ol Nick” relays a cautionary tale about a character as deceitful as the devil, while “Wolves Howling” provides a chilling lesson on bad omens that are often difficult to avoid.
Happily then, producer Larry Campbell ensures that the proceedings shuffle along at a spirited pace, never allowing anything other than an amiable attitude and a dedicated delivery. Plus, there’s still sentiment in abundance, with songs such as “Don’t Bet Against Me,” “You Want Me To Change” and “Worlds Upside Down” reflecting that universal desire for affirmation and acceptance. So while the Hackensack Boys are old school specialists, their overall approach aims for overall appeal.