The Hodgkins are a talented bunch. Australia’s so-called ‘first psychedelic jug band’, The Perch Creek Family Jugband consists of four siblings (and one stray partner). Its second studio album Jumping On The Highwire was released mid-March 2014 through Vitamin Records.
The songwriting process behind this all-original release saw band members collaborating more closely than ever before, sharing the lyric writing between all five members, often line by line – a method that seems to have unlocked inventiveness. Conjuring up talking tigers and whispering monkeys, broken typewriters and strange moons, the imaginations of the band soon saw a cast of characters emerge. The creative musings of five contrasting yet complementary personalities in the band have found a common focal point, drawing it all together to reflect the energetic and dynamic experience of a Perch Creek Family Jugband live show.
“Party On The Farm” is the opening track on Jumping On The Highwire. It’s a rollicking, hand-clapping joyful yarn about life on the farm, with some prominent keyboard that just breaks the predictability of a more traditional jugband sound (this is a welcome feature throughout the album, adding depth and nuance to the material). “Big Things Calling” has a banjo thread and a much more serious connotation – about the need to change your ways after some bad habits and self-reflection.
“Where You Been” is a surprise. It kicks off with a Human League style keyboard riff before settling into an interesting arrangement, following the lines of an emotional parent/child dialogue about the latter’s deemed unacceptable behaviour. “Mother Of My Mother” is a more traditional, banjo-driven piece – with plenty of tasteful harmonica – letting loved ones know of the compelling desire to leave this country town. There is a very strong familial theme with the material (probably what you might expect from a bunch of siblings creating together) and it provides a strong evocative and emotional core. Perhaps my favourite track on the album is “Something In The Valley” – a precautionary and prescient tale of some evil a-foot, with a beautiful and haunting arrangement.
“There’s something in the valley tonight
I got shivers up and down my spine
It feels like half four but it just struck nine
Mama there’s something in the valley tonight”
“Why’d You Do That For” is a New-Orleans infused jazz piece, with the slide trumpet of Mal Webb a pressing influence. “The Great Unknown” is a highlight – slow and thoughtful. The song starts of with soothing chanting and transports itself with delightful shared vocals and beautiful harmonies into a moving, uplifting chorus:
“So come on Mama, come on brother
Be you ready, the world is gonna rumble
Everybody stand tall”
“Bitchin’ Betty Lou” and “Carper Catinach” round out the collection and are fun-filled – plentiful and vibrant bass thumping and drum brushing at a sprinter’s pace.
This is a fine album that is full of delights and surprises – solid material, tremendous arrangements and a tacit demonstration of the talents contained therein. Production-wise, the album is a gumbo of tremelo guitar, driving Wurlitzer, electric vibraphone and lush harmonies. I am looking forward to seeing The Perch Creek Family Jugband up on stage somewhere very soon.
Jumping On The Highwire was produced by Joe Ferguson at Harrow Hill and Decibels Studio and by Josh Whitehead at Crosstown Soundstudios, with additional tracking by James Chandler. The artwork and packaging of Jumping On The Highwire are a treat as well.
The Perch Creek Family Jugband are:
Christi Hodgkins – harmonica, trombone and vocals
Eileen Hodgkins – acoustic guitar, banjo, ukulele and vocals
Lear Hodgkins – drums, washboard, jug and vocals
Camilla Hodgkins – piano, wurlitzer, casio, vibraphonette, banjo and vocals
James Chandler – double bass, electric guitar and vocals
The tour to support this impressive release is on – plenty of chances to see them yet. Dates below.
Thanks to Heapsaflash (Music Media Management) and Vitamin Records