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Album Review
The Great Mountain Haul EP

The Great Mountain Haul EP
by John The Baptist


Review Date
24th January 2012
Reviewed by
Leslie Henkel

John the Baptist brings energetic, knee-slapping, classic banjo-Americana to the pubs and streets of Wellington. Rich with instrumental prowess and infused with the band members’ youthful enthusiasm for the art and all its bourbon-soaked, train-hopping, boot-legging, rabble-rousing, beard-sporting associations, this album is worth its weight in moonshine for fans of Roots and Bluegrass.

“Hawkin Stomp” gets the EP going with a raucous start that builds from a single, high-plains voice and fast-paced banjo and guitar, to rapid-fire drumming and a wild, harmonica breakaway. The gist of the song, which plays into the running theme of the album, is based around a restless man who just can’t love his good woman. “It’s such a drag being stuck this way when I’d rather be someplace far away.” The song then erupts into a crescendo of whooping, hollering, handclaps, crashing cymbals, and a mighty chorus of no-good, heart-breakin’ men.

After such a Bacchanalian beginning, the easy-paced, “When I Lay Down To Die,” feels like sleeping off a bender on a mountaintop, and waking up to bluebirds chirping and the warm sun shining down. Simple banjo-picking over whiskers brushing the cymbals, creates the dreamy, hungover background for admissions such as: “Oh boy I know I drink too much / Fall asleep in someone’s room and wake up in the afternoon.” The all-in chorus celebrates the joys of wine, women, and rambling: “When I lay down to die there’ll be a smile upon my face / I know that I have seen this place / Oh when I lay down to die.”

The pace picks back up with “Winter,” a bluegrass drinking ballad where the bands’ voices blend like a fine Kentucky bourbon. As the brass breaks in—cornet, trumpet, trombone and bass trombone—the chorus ascends over the banjo and drums crashing happily along. It’s a gorgeous composition that transcends the simplicity of the underlying tune, and literally gives me chills. Taking a different turn, acoustic guitar two-steps with a sultry electric one in “The Great Mountain Haul,” sauntering off toward more of an alt-country rock direction. As the whole band sings the minor notes, “It’s time to leave, it’s time to go,” one sees visions of an outlaw posse slowly and stealthily retreating into the sunset. The final song, a live track intriguingly named “Hand Shandy” (does this mean what I think it means?), proves a rip-roaring, Pogues-colored hoedown to end the album off right! Pun intended.

As an American formerly steeped in a thriving Roots scene, I think I can speak to the upsurge in popularity of old-time music amongst the twenty-something set—particularly in such trend-setting cities as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. One might wonder if it’s a trend that will flourish in New Zealand, with the history behind it an ocean removed from the musicians who embrace it. But, when you consider that the theme of this album is getting drunk, having a blast, and, most of all, getting up and away to the next adventure—all sentiments heavily embraced by young Kiwis—I’m confident that John the Baptist will lead the way in creating an outpost of appreciation for the genre. I also suspect that you’ll see more bands sprouting up across the country and attempting to emulate their barrel-stomping steeze.


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