Released: September 2014
You’d be easily forgiven after listening to debut album O Hinterland for believing that neo-country folk duo The August List were from Nashville or Atlanta, yet the origins of this husband-wife outfit are much closer to home. Hailing from Dorset and now based in Oxfordshire, partners in crime Martin and Kerraleigh Child are certain to fool plenty of listeners with this eleven track LP as it convincingly replicates the classic era of American country music with a rootsy, minimalist style and some finely tuned vocal performances from the central duo.
The opening track of O Hinterland is adorned with the title Wooden Trunk Blues, its lo-fi recording style reflecting this by presenting acoustic guitars and raw vocals from Mrs Child over blues chords and retro rhythms. The strong southern American twang to Child’s voice recalls country heroines of the ‘60s, and though this record very much sounds like a man and woman deeply in love, her gutsy attitude channels the feminist rebellion of legends such as Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. Hers is a voice of constantly differing tones; she can be tender and loving when supporting her husband as he takes the lead (see High Town Crow and Long Division), and yet displays a fiery streak on the more provocative, triumphant tracks – Cut Yr Teeth being a fine example of the menace and sharpness Child possesses.
When husband Martin takes centre stage the dynamic of the album doesn’t so much shift as evolve into something else. After a few songs of his performances being subordinate to Kerraleigh’s wild and excitable vocal style, it’s pleasing to hear Mr Child inject a darker, more melancholic tone to proceedings. “Sometimes I wish love was all I felt”, he croons as the album takes on a more ballad driven form in its middle third. Unafraid to display emotion and sensitivity amidst highly masculine performances, Child recalls classic male country singers and adds in the kind of modern human touch found in recent country and folk acts such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Frank Turner.
What drags the album down is its inability to develop its formulaic approach. The two singers are superb performers in their own right and together form a formidable duo, but instrumentally O Hinterland leaves much to be desired. What starts of as a refreshingly raw take on modern folk sounds soon becomes laboured, overused and frustratingly familiar. The admittedly stunning vocals can’t quite hold on their shoulders the weight of an album that so stubbornly refuses to deviate from straightforward guitar strumming, uninspired chord progressions and predictable woodwind-led intros. It’s disappointing to see a record with such vocal depth play it so dreadfully safe when it comes to the rest of the band.
Traditional country fans will find plenty to sink their teeth into with this modern take on one of music’s most enduring genres, however for those looking for something really different this might not be the case. The August List work as perfectly amicable replicas of the giants of the 1960s and ‘70s, but their sweet duets and emotive lyricism are constantly hampered by a lack of originality and texture in the instrument department. This is far from a poor record, however, and leaves the door open for plenty more exciting work as Mr and Mrs Child further explore that ever-popular and unforgettable country sound.