3hattrio – Live at The Green Note, Camden 31/08/19

3hattrio hail from Zion Canyon in Utah USA , living on the edge of the Zion National Park. The trio, Hal Cannon on banjo, guitar, vocals, Greg Istock double bass, percussion, vocals and Eli Wrankle violin are on fourteen date UK tour to promote their Live at Zion concert album. Hal is a folklorist of cowboy and western music with a musical background in old time old west music, Greg’s musical background is African traditions filtered through the Caribbean and American South. Eli is a classically trained violinist. Five albums in, all released on their own Okehdokee Records, 3hattrio have carved their own distinctive and unique musical niche. Their albums are recorded in artist Istock’s riverside studio, place matters to music the band say, writing, living day to day and recording in the expansive ‘wild west’ landscape their music is guided and shaped by the vistas around them. So their individual backgrounds and physical and spiritual home have twisted together to become an evocative beast the band calls American Desert Music.

From the moment the trio comes onto the small stage at The Green Note, dressed in black, wearing hats (of course), it is clear the band are the real deal, the connection to the music they play is there, written on their faces.

Vocals are shared between Hal and Greg. Hal has a voice full of experience and gravitas, think mature Guy Clark or the old school preacher voice of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher. His singing voice on tracks like ‘Dust Devils’ is the weather smoothed comfortable slur staple from fine country and folk. His speaking voice on the eerie ‘Lord Of The Desert’ has a potency, life experience and sheer ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ weirdness that Jim Lizard King Morrison would have killed for in his mid song poetic expositions. Two or three lines of that piece, with Greg’s rattling jazz double bass and Eli’s soaring electric violin and in my mind I’m lying on my back under the endless cloudless desert sky waiting for the mesculine to hit.

Greg’s is a characterful instrument, like a seasoned blues veteran it is sometimes the timbre or sound of his words as the words themselves. ‘Off The Map’ stretched out beyond the album version his evocative voice slurs and slithers slipping between reggae and calypso and the most rhythmically locked to the groove blues you have ever heard. Both of them could sing the phonebook and it would be worth hearing. There are smiles and nods too on the upbeat old time ‘Texas Traveller’, but beneath the humour and audience pleasing call and response is amazing musicality with three musicians who fit together well. Musically the trio is both unbelievably tight and balanced, like a three headed beast with six arms the instruments twine and connect, there is no obvious leader. Istock’s Bass with both the runs of notes from 70’s reggae and the body taps and resonant notes of jazz is often central to the music without an actual solo as such. Hal doubles up on the guitar and banjo, playing sat down it is often difficult to see what he is doing, laying down county licks or stroking up an atmosphere on his electric, it is evocative and descriptive rather than showy, always serving the music. Eli on stage is a man of few words and fewer facial expressions, but his violin shouts and sings like a gospel diva. He can create huge electric sweeps that describe the endless curved horizon of the desert or gently swirling loops of notes. Together the music they create is cinematic in its ability to draw pictures, create miasma or add the colours to lyrics and illustrate their stories of Utah and Zion National Park. 3hattrio are a band you simply must see live, pick up an album or two and spend some time on a journey through their amazing American Desert Music.

“One more night that you would never give back…
Got to hit the road now, you can hear that train a callin”


Marc Higgins

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