November 7, 2002

Test Spin: The Hank Dogs

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It’s certainly true that bands are indeed families, but the vice versa seems more prone to ear-paining vices than virtuous verses. Need I mention the Partridge Family? The Brady Bunch? The Osmonds? Yes, the Jackson 5 were great, but mixing blood and business is a risky deal.

Perhaps therein lies the distinction. The Hank Dogs make music as art in the purest sense, without care for commercial viability or a crafted image. The British trio is singer/lyricist Piano (she doesn’t play it; it’s her name), her ex-husband Andy, and Lily, Andy’s daughter from another previous marriage. Add Andy and Piano’s daughter Dixie (still too young to play along, but not to provide “love and inspiration”) and this all sounds like it might be fodder for a day-time talk show. Instead, it makes for ethereal songs that resonate both literally and emotionally. The sparse yet rich arrangements sound as if recorded in some huge cathedral, and they evoke all the despair and hope one can handle.

Andy’s Celtic-tinged guitar, mandolin, and banjo lay a lush blanket under Piano’s and Lily’s angelic vocal harmonies. “Torture” lilts along like those early 10,000 Maniacs albums that are probably under you car seat on cassette (“What’s that?” you ask). The title track has an air of mystery that the Indigo Girls are always trying to achieve.

The one possible complaint — that the calm mood of the album is so unwaivering — is ultimately moot, because this is the comforting sort of mood that should be held on to like a security blanket. To want otherwise would be equivalent to asking Nick Cave to sing a happy song. Unthinkable. And when songs like “Singers” and “Let Alone Me” pick up ever so slightly, the effect, and the affect, is grand.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas