Odetta Hartman’s second album Old Rockhounds Never Die is a bonanza of beautiful contradictions: intimate yet fiercely internationalist, spiritual and yet tangible,...
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Odetta Hartman’s second album Old Rockhounds Never Die is a bonanza of beautiful contradictions: intimate yet fiercely internationalist, spiritual and yet tangible, sweet and also sexy. It convenes with the ghosts of the past while marching relentlessly forwards. Drawn from experiences as far-flung as riding a train from San Francisco to Chicago with an old-style, rootin'-tootin' cowboy for company ('Cowboy Song'), to experiencing the intense natural beauty of Icelandic waterfalls ('Dettifoss'), it’s a record that taps into the musical traditions of the past while being a collection of songs about living in the moment.
+ Indie shop pressing on translucent red vinyl.
Raised by pioneering parents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC, Odetta’s milieu was a “colorful culture of artistry,” that included early exposure to community activism, renegade film screenings, poetry readings and trips to CBGB's. Inchoate punk and hip hop were aural wallpaper, as were the 45s spinning in the household jukebox featuring her dad’s extensive collection of soul and afrobeat records, as well as her Appalachian mother’s classic country selections.
A classically trained violinist with a penchant for back-porch banjo, Odetta combines these variegated sounds of her childhood with her personal passion for folk music and the musicological legacy of Alan Lomax. Lomax is writ large on Old Rockhounds... at least in spirit anyway. Odetta plays all the instruments on this and her debut 222, which made problematic the changeovers between songs when playing live. Field recordings the singer had collected on her travels were utilised to make such transitions seamless, and so successful was that intermingling of songs and soundscapes that they’ve transitioned into the recording process.
It makes for a strangely intimate listen: tingly and a little tipsy: an album for twilight, sitting within the nocturnal hinterland between dusk and somnambulance - candlelit and confidential - a time for stories and secrets. So far, so old skool. And yet, Old Rockhounds Never Die also embraces modernity without ever sounding incongruous. The mix of manipulated 21st century beats and the musical traditions of centuries meet at a crossroads and consummate their curiosity without inhibition.
It’ll probably not surprise anyone listening to the album then that its a co-production. Odetta writes and performs all the songs while her partner Jack Inslee is in the background bringing the digital dark arts. Experimenting with found sounds and foley, the two have developed a sonic vernacular built around playing around with a-typical instruments. Hartman explains: “Many of the beats on the album were recorded in the kitchen: the snare sound is actually a running faucet, or if you hear these glockenspiel bells that's actually a set of kitchen bowls. Other percussive elements include scissors, a pepper grinder and keys on the radiator.”
Hartman was performing in a 10-piece band when she met Jack, who then challenged her to strip everything back and explore her own singular talent. The first fruits of this experiment were borne on the aforementioned, critically acclaimed 222. In 2015, Stereogum said: “Her impulse to mix elements of folk, bluegrass, and Americana with experimental or warped psychedelia is bridged by her strength as a lyricist, and the strength of the record’s producer Jack Inslee.” Old Rockhounds... takes the blueprint and improves upon it, with songs yet more vivid, sensual and cinematic.