The Boston-based Mike Hallal Band has released a new 12-song, 64-minute album of original roots rock, titled Hatchet Blues, available today at iTunes and other popular online and mobile sites. Featuring live-in-studio recordings of basic tracks and lead vocals, the new album captures the raw power and spontaneity of the 4-piece “gutbucket blues” crew (as The Noise tagged them in ’09). The band’s previous release, Live at Lizard Lounge, was named one of the Top 100 New CDs of ’09 by Real Blues magazine, in the company of albums from Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy and other notables.
On track 2 of Hatchet Blues, the hard driving “World’s a Place” recasts a story found in Barack Obama’s pre-presidential biography, Dreams from My Father (pp. 249–51). Lyrics echo the narrative’s South Side “Johnnie,” a “philosopher of the blues,” reflecting on a young girl’s suicide in 1987—and the matter-of-fact mantra Obama discovered in his streetwise talk. “We started with some sex-you-up words on that one,” says Hallal, “but the darker tale won the day.”
The title track, a 9-minute slow blues, may be darker still. The song rides on a mournful melody played on the lower registers of electric baritone guitar. And Hallal’s pensive verses wrestle with murder and revenge, alluding to Shakespeare’s Hamlet along the way.
In addition to 8 original songs, the new album includes fresh takes on lesser-known gems from bluesmen Charlie Patton and Henry Townsend. Patton’s haunting “Poor Me” (recorded at his last session in 1934) is fleshed out with slide guitar, bass and 4-on-the-floor drums. Townsend’s 1931 hit “Doctor Oh Doctor” gets a riff-heavy remake that speaks to modern frustrations.
Joining singer/songwriter/guitarist Hallal in the band are drummer Jim Antonellis, bassist Robert DeCorte and lead guitarist Chris Schluntz. DeCorte wrote and sings the evocative “Last of the Great Train Robbers” (track 6), and Schluntz authored the music for “World’s a Place.” The group’s improv skills are especially evident on the bonus track—a funky, off-the-cuff “Levels Jam.” Guest Doug Batchelder adds Keith Richards-style guitar on the opening rocker “Skywriting,” understated keys on the ballad “Liv” and backing vocals throughout.
Recording was done at Batchelder’s Den (N. Reading, MA). The Neighborhoods’ David Minehan mixed all but the bonus track at his Woolly Mammoth Sound (Waltham, MA). Dave Locke of JP Masters (Charlotte, NC) did the mastering. “Got this one on rotation in the car,” says Locke, whose label credits include EMI, Universal and Warner.
Distributed by TuneCore, Hatchet Blues is now available at iTunes and other online and mobile sites, including Amazon (MP3 & CD), eMusic, MySpace Music, Spotify and Thumbplay. It’s the band’s 3rd album and the 10th full-length release to feature Hallal’s original music. For full-track samples and more info, visit myspace.com/mikehallalband