Hophorn Hornbeam’s debut self-titled album Hophorn Hornbeam almost didn't happen. Three days after the Ottawa band played their first show, lead man Gavin Dyke severely damaged his left hand in a woodworking accident. Unfortunately, a nine-day hospital stay and many surgeries did little to point to Dyke regaining the necessary dexterity to play guitar again. Goodbye, Hornbeam, right? Wrong. Dyke retrofitted his guitars and learned to play guitar left-handed. Through the re-learning process, the band came up with their debut album. At the core of the album are simple folk tunes, easy for Dyke to play as he re-learned guitar. However, when played as a full band, Hornbeam’s project takes on an exciting alt-country edge.
“Dystopian Bump” is a beautiful opening track. Bugs and birds chirp over heavily reverbed pedal steel and slide guitar. The song is spacious in its ambiance but pointed in its emotiveness. After knowing the band’s tumultuous past, this opener provides hope that they are now at ease. Along this vein, “Songwriter Death Trip” shows strength in the face of life’s adversity. The song ends with Dyke confidently singing, “But you don’t have to say / That you’re bound to fail / When the devil’s got you by the tail / No you don’t have to say / When you’re bound to fail / That old devil’s got you by the tail.” The songwriting on the album is smart and vivid. The songs have tight vocal melodies and surprising rhymes, all while managing to convey a clear story, and the music is just as good.
Both “Perrenial Bloom” and “Flowers on a Beer Can” have excellent pedal steel solos, while “Domesticated” features a saloon-style piano that is pure fun. Some harmonica solos are sprinkled throughout the album and give the track “Old Stock” a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers type of energy. On top of the impressive performances, the production has an honest and endearing quality to it. This was purposeful, as Dyke played the songs for the band not long before recording, which happened live. Overall, the songwriting and recording style mesh well.
Hophorn Hornbeam has overcome a lot in its short existence, but their perseverance is a testament to what it means to be a band, musician, artist, writer, or what have you. The group has overcome a lot, and they have an impressive piece of music to show for it. This album has me looking forward to what they’ll drop next.
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