THE WHISKEY FARM – Over These Green Hills
2022 (Self release)
Over These Green Hills can be purchased here.
Read other Whiskey Farm reviews here.
It’s been five years since the Whiskey Farm released a new album, not counting the appearance of their single “Songs of the Resistance,” which was selected for Songs for Social Change, Volume 2 in 2018 and a second single, “In the Darkness” released in October 2020 as part of the Songs for Social Change, Volume 5 collection. The latter single and ten others make up Over These Green Hills, recorded at Blast House Studios earlier this year and released in June.
Over These Green Hills is a fine album; the playing reflecting the group’s experience and their commitment to an unapologetic style due in part to all the songs being composed by Jason Horowitz. The group has depth in that the songs have stories behind them, sometimes personal and at other times historical. Like good folk music there are lessons learned and relatable memories to be savored but the band never force these on their listeners. Instead, the lyrics are many times left a bit open to interpretation so the closer one pays attention the more connections can be made.
The album was recorded by Landon Arkens, whose expertise captures the essence of the band; the instruments are perfectly blended while the vocals ride the top of mix. And vocals are a strong suit for the Whiskey Farm. Here they are tightly wound, the phrasing between the harmonies nearly flawless. At times there are as many as six harmonies, as in “Huckleberry Pie.” Themes of strife and overcoming hard times are always central to the Whiskey Farm’s music and this song is no exception. Horowitz describes the song this way: “Sometimes the best way to write a song about hard times is to wrap it up in an upbeat, toe-tapping, bluegrassy package. It’s hard to get people to agree on anything these days, but just about everyone loves pie.”
Horowitz seeks to set the historical record straight with “Jesse James,” reminiscent of “Doc Holliday’s Last Christmas” from their Book of Matches album. The song is highlighted by Brett Wilfrid’s mandolin and banjo with pedal steel guitar played by Matt Cooper-Borkenhagen.
Used metaphorically by countless musicians of late, sunflowers have been associated with the travesty in Ukraine. The Whiskey Farm’s “Sunflowers” utilizes that symbolism in their own way. Here is a great encapsulation of their sound and style; rollicking acoustic guitars, precise rhythmic playing by drummer Chad Bartell and bassist Mike Steen, classy acoustic and electric guitar flourishes from Wilfrid and trademak tight vocal harmonies. Cooper-Borkenhagen’s pedal steel could be mistaken for violin.
Social justice is never far from Horowitz’s mind. Here is the video for the pre-election “In the Darkness” which shows another lyrical side while staying stylistically in their wheelhouse.
Although it’s not included on this album, the Whiskey Farm also released “Thoughts and Prayers” earlier this spring; the song obviously born of frustration addressed directly at Congress.
No folk-oriented album would be complete without a murder ballad and the title track tells a tale of a convicted man awaiting sentencing. Elsewhere “Old Friends” appeals to the impacts of lifelong friendships while the sweet balladry of “Waiting for You” serves as a canvas for plaintive steel guitar to paint upon. The album closes with “Wishful Drinkin’” a country tune where a little whiskey might magically bring your lover back.
The Whiskey Farm have earned their place in the Madison music community as well as a purpose. Ever since the “tractors came to town” they’ve been holding the torch of hope and a fighting spirit aloft. Over These Green Hills may be their best album to date but it feels like Horowitz’s tempered outrage might explode full-boar into a Dylan-esque statement we all might need down the road. May they keep burning.
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