For touring musicians, the road is a harsh mistress. It takes an iron will to survive and a hard-headed love for music so deeply ingrained that the mere thought of a missed gig makes you nauseous. For 17 years, the Hackensaw Boys have plowed the asphalt, bringing their raw, gritty version of American roots music to the venues and streets that originally inspired them. Born in Virginia, along the same routes as fellow road warriors/street buskers Old Crow Medicine Show, the Hackensaw Boys have at times operated more as a collective than a band, sometimes boasting up to twenty members. What’s kept them together is a burning hot vision of American roots music brought kicking and screaming into a new age, fueled as much by a rowdy punk spirit as by the traditional masters that first inspired them. Now with their new album, Charismo (April 15, 2016 on Free Dirt Records)–their first studio album in almost a decade–the Hackensaw Boys have a new lineup and a new lease on life. Led by founding member, guitarist and songwriter David Sickmen, they’re back on the road with new songs, determined to get their fans back on the dancefloors they remember so well.
Charismo was recorded in upstate New York with Grammy-award winning producer Larry Campbell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan, Steep Canyon Rangers) who pushed the new lineup to look to their roots. Traditional Appalachian stringband tunes and Delta blues still lay the groundwork as the Hackensaw Boys inject their latest album with a heavy dose of the let-the-good-times-roll spit and vinegar the band has become known for over the years. Charismo’s songs, all written by Sickmen and longtime Hackensaw member Ferd Moyse, are tinged with an attitude of scrappy resilience, spinning tales of everyday struggles and triumphs. The instrumentation of the Hackensaw Boys still points to their origins in Appalachia, but the rough-edged fiddle (Moyse), banjo (Jimmy Stelling), mandolin/bass (Thomas Oliver) and washboard percussion (Brian Gorby) lines here likely have more in common with the band’s punk roots than they do slavish imitation of bluegrass progenitors. The Hackensaw Boys have always had more in common with bands like The Clash, who celebrated the working class roots of their own music, than they did with an overly-polished Nashville mainstream. As evidenced in the Hackensaws’ history, their music fit as easily as the backing band for Charlie Louvin as it did in backstage jams on tour with Modest Mouse or the Flaming Lips.
Charismo is the album that the Hackensaw Boys’ fans have been waiting for. The songs on this new album are fueled by the dance-all-night spirit, but point towards the kind of road-weary life experiences that have seen them through every storm the modern music industry could send their way. From a major label debut to playing massive festivals like Bonnaroo, the Hackensaw Boys have seen it all, and in the end the music has been the fuel that’s kept them going non-stop and has kept their vision of the future so bright and clear.