Darren Hayman

Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee

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Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee describe their music as East London bluegrass -- not to be confused, perhaps, with the North London variety pioneered by the Kinks on Muswell Hillbillies -- and while they might not pass muster for strict traditionalists, they do make an impressive showing for a ragtag band of Anglo amateurs. Actually, although the most noteworthy names in this laid-back supergroup are a couple of indie rockers (Hefner's Darren Hayman and the Wave Pictures' Dave Tattersall), they've got an ace in the hole in "proper folky" Dan Mayfield, whose fiddle work adds some assured authenticity to instrumental breakdowns like the traditional "Buckdancer's Choice" and passable original "Beulah Crossing the Marshes." Dave Watkins' banjo playing's not bad either, but virtuosity clearly isn't nearly as relevant here as energy and enthusiasm, which this gang have got in spades. The group's chief priority to date has been nothing more ambitious than playing around Hayman's kitchen table, and the album has the light-hearted, infectious feel of an impromptu jam session. That low-stakes looseness can also make it feel fairly dispensable, although it's hard to imagine not enjoying it at least somewhat. Certainly, your patience for these affable but slight renditions of "Hesitation Blues," and especially Huey Smith's goofy "High Blood Pressure," will depend a good deal on your tolerance for Hayman's scruffy, less-than-mellifluous vocals (or Tattersall's -- they're tough to tell apart.) The pay-off, though, is in the originals which make up about half the record, particularly Tattersall's sweet waltz-time come-on "Fine Young Cannibals" (nothing to do with Roland Gift), and several of Hayman's contributions, including the sprightly, saucy "Dirty Tube Train" and the superb low-rent love song "Sly & the Family Stone" (nothing to do with Sylvester Stewart), which should gratify his fans considerably. The countrified cover of the Mountain Goats obscurity "Jam-Eater Blues" is also an inspired performance and an inspired choice, featuring a lyrical mantra -- "life is too short to refrain from eating out of the jar" -- which aptly sums up the kind of gusto that Hayman et al. bring to this singular, endearing little record.

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