Release Date: Sep 13, 11
White Hat is a wonderful record to carry you along into autumn. It’s lithe and sparse, with languid guitars and drowsy piano laying the humble foundations for the yarn-spinning vocals of Chris Senseney. It’s a record light enough to counter the last gasps of summer heat and containing enough familiar images to enhance the nostalgia of fall.
The debut album from married couple folk team, Big Harp, put out on Saddle Creek, is a mature and aware record. Though it’s the first album for Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney as a group under the Big Harp name, the two musicians are veterans of the indie rock world, with Drootin-Senseney playing in The Good Life and alongside acts like Bright Eyes and Azure Ray.
At its core, White Hat is a traveling record. “Goodbye Crazy City” and “Steady Hand Behind the Wheel” offer tales of leaving the places you once called home. Two tracks about the same wayward young woman bookend the record. “Nadine” and “Oh, Nadine” tell the story of a young woman who “Goes off to California/like in every other song.” When the ragtime styled piano kicks in on “Nadine,” it’s easy to think of Tom Waits or Nick Cave.
Those comparisons are even harder to ignore after hearing playful lines like, “He was looking to get laid/and she laid him down for sure” describing Nadine’s .22 caliber pistol sponsored revenge on her cheatin’ and mistreatin’ lover. And it completes the image to add that Nadine bought the pistol with money she got from pawning the shoes on her feet.
But Big Harp’s songs seem to have an optimism that both Waits and Cave steer away from. The characters on White Hat have a chance at redemption that other artists don’t allow for their skid row bound characters. On “Oh, Nadine” the perspective is from Nadine’s father, like a letter, offering help and a homecoming.
Things look promising for Big Harp, though the neo-folk revival of the mid-2000s has given way to a trend electronic and chill wave music, there is always a place and time for a classic folk record to fit in.