The Jaw for the Job, The Heart for the Sin
How could a couple of Pittsburgh twentysomethings form a band that sounds straight out of the '70s roots-rock continuum? Well, keeping the dial locked on WYEP is one way to do it, but listening to the same music their dad does -- and playing in the same band with him -- clinches it.
Brother-and-sister Nicholas Hohman and Leah Hohman-Esser make up the songwriting backbone of the band Brewer's Row, named after their practice space located next to a brewery. But they never stray too far stylistically from the golden era of their dad, Mark Hohman, a veteran of '60s rock band Shredded Wheat, who plays guitar and sings backup with them.
On the lead-off track, "Benny," Nicholas paints a convincing picture of a 17-year-old who's killed his abusive father and hightailed it on a back-roads crime spree, ending in a brief glare of media attention. "Stone Wall" (which is getting some WYEP airplay), if I read it correctly, compares a broken relationship to the crumbling infrastructure of a decaying industrial town. He draws on the same kind of Rust Belt and heartland imagery common to Springsteen (you can't get much more working-class than "the dirt on your nails disappears / When you lay hands on the sweat-stained grip of your wheel") and our own Mr. Joseph Grushecky.
So it's no surprise that Nicholas' gritty, rambling voice resembles Bruce, as well as Tom Petty, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. And Leah's pristine vocal moments on songs such as the power-balladish "Full Moon" and the swaying "Cinderella" recall the soulful rootsiness of more than a few Triple-A songstresses, from Patty Larkin to Bonnie Raitt.
You won't find anything particularly upbeat or fast-moving on this album -- mostly slow and deliberate with lovely harmonies, plus a bluesy harmonica here and there and quite a few waltzes -- but it's a gem of an Americana release with wide appeal. If a college kid brought it home over Thanksgiving weekend, his parents might exclaim, "Now, this is good music! You should listen to stuff like this more often instead of that screamo garbage!"
I'm all for bringing those generations together.