Not many bands can claim that they were formed in a cemetery. But it was a perfect and appropriately poetic setting for the birth of roots music trailblazers The Pine Hill Haints.
Just to address the obvious, the word “haint,” of archaic English origin, means to haunt or to inhabit aggressively. And with a medium-like connection, The Haints have spent the last two decades resurrecting all kinds of music that has passed out of the mainstream – in a style they call “Alabama Ghost Country.”
On the band’s latest long-player, The Song Companion of a Lonestar Cowboy, they go there and to other colourful places on the Americana and Appalachian trail.
The fifteen song sequence kicks off with “Fall Asleep” and “Back to Alabama,” a fiery pair of rockabilly-meets-Irish-jig rave-ups, then winds through standout tracks like the Bo Diddley-grooved “Pretty Thing,” a pounding tom-tom and fiddle take on the traditional “John Henry” and the catchy, Cajun-flavoured squeezebox pop of “Lone Star Kid.”
There are excursions into Sun Records-style country (“Midnight Mayor” and “Louise”) and swampy blues (the saw-singing “Wade in the Water” and “Downtown Blues,” which features guest J.D. Wilkes on harmonica).
Throughout, Barrier’s strong tenor voice rings familiar and friendly, with deep echoes of everything from John Lee Hooker to Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash.
And the band plays with a sense of abandon that comes from thousands of gigs behind them. It all sounds deceptively simple, but anyone who plays music knows better.
The Haints do something very few roots bands can, which is to transcend influences and sculpt age-old sounds into soul music for our time.