The first track, "Needle to the Groove," opens with the sound of a jukebox changing records and the needle falling on a scratchy old disc. Suddenly, the band blasts into a straight-up, rock 'n' roll riff, sweeping you up for four bars before settling into a quick-paced swing with a pounding backbeat. Over this rock-swing musical groove, Willis sings of honky-tonk nostalgia, referencing old 45s, lovesick blues, jukeboxes, shuffles and whiskey.
From there, they slow it down on the second track, "Painted Picture," without ever losing energy or momentum. Bluegrass mandolin player Bill Hicks' cameo appearance on this song makes the tune feel like a vintage classic as he beautifully integrates the rolling bluegrass rhythm of his mandolin with the rollicking country sound of the band.
On "Me, My Baby, and the All-Night Radio" and "The Way We're Living," the fifth and sixth tracks, McGraw trades in his bass for a banjo, which adds a distinctive old-school, almost old-timey, country flavor to these tunes, while never losing the fast-paced, hard-edged swing feel that runs throughout the album.
Produced by John Plymale (Meat Puppets, Hobex and Kim Richey), Introducing ... Hobart Willis and the Back Forty is a strong debut CD, delivering a stiff shot of hardcore, honky-tonk music.
Hobart Willis and the Back Forty is available at School Kids, Record Exchange, CD Alley and other Triangle outlets.