Instant Hobo Dirt Roads & Detours (Hobo Americana Records)
By Martin Cizmar
I was once in a band. A hobo-themed band, actually. The Hobo Kin played our one and only show at a cemetery in Brimfield, Ohio on Halloween night 2002. We gave our fans – all girls we knew from our college paper – doughnuts. I “played” harmonica and my BFF Brian played pots and pans. Our douchebag friend Jay played acoustic guitar and carried most of the songs, simple blues ditties about hobo life – “We Ride the Rails,” “Some Hooch, Some Cooch, Let’s Roll” and “Full Belly, Fast Train.” We were pretty great, if I do say so myself, but soon after our show Jay abandoned us in the hopes of forming a band with people who knew how to play actual instruments.
The point is this: I’m sympathetic to hobo-themed roots music.
Still, I wasn’t blown away by Phoenix band Instant Hobo’s latest offering, Dirt Roads & Detours. It’s got some catchy little songs, but ultimately, seems a little tossed together.
The opener, “Two Story Outhouse,” sets the tone: light, often funny, Americana. Singer John Feula sounds a lot like Robbie Fulks but doesn’t have his wit. “Broken Screen Door” starts off with a nice little bass line, but quickly falls in to the same mid-tempo beat that dominates the rest of the record.
On “Gooseberry Ranch” the band gets to their hobo roots, singing about ladies that know how to treat hobos and referencing “Big Rock Candy Mountain” – the “Stairway to Heaven” of the hobo genre.
“Jennifer” sees the tempo change a bit, with hints of samba and jazz tossed in, but by “”Mojo’s Funeral” they’re back to the familiar trot found elsewhere. The imagery of his dead hobo from El Paso doesn’t grab me like it could – if you’re gonna sing hobo songs, you’ve gotta paint those scenes of life in the trackside jungles, boys . The harmonica work here is one of the album’s true bright spots though; the band could use a lot more of it.
The album’s closer “One Black Shoe,” has a jazzy feel, not all together unpleasant, but set to that same mild beat it’s not quite the strong closer the albums needs.
Dirt Roads & Detours isn’t a bad record, but Instant Hobo could do a lot by changing up their pace more often and adding a few more music flourishes – as well as some hardcore hobo slang and maybe a few less oblique references to hookers.
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