Sleeper by The Haints of Dean Hall, released on Arch Hill Recordings, 2010
The duo of Kathryn McCool and Stephen Reay are The Haints of Dean Hall; McCool is currently living in Australia, Reay in New Zealand.
McCool has a photographic and cinematic background, directing and filming the documentary Sand Mountain in 2009. Receiving deserved praise it has screened at numerous festivals, programme notes describe it as:
“…a road movie that drives into personal territory as well as the back roads of Alabama… (this) solo journey through the American South to meet reclusive musician Cast King attempts to find the America she had, as a youth, re-created and photographed in her own backyard in rural New Zealand.”
Stills from 'Sand Mountain'
'united state' the Subliminals
Reay was once in the outstanding New Zealand band the Subliminals, recording the album united state back in 2000 on Flying Nun Records. It’s a deftly created groove of hypnotic guitars – humming and chiming in gentle distortion – producing a tantalizing ebb and flow of seduction.
Occasional vocals become an added instrumental bonus, turning memorable sound-scapes into songs of sublime fuzz-pop. It remains one of the most unique recordings to come from the Flying Nun family, united state sounds as innovative today as it did over a decade ago.
The Crystal Chain is from their earlier 6 track, self titled e.p.
The Subliminals – The Crystal Chain
World Without Boundaries
When Radio New Zealand’s Richard Wain interviewed the Haints in April 2010, the programme’s introduction described them as making:
“haunting, ghost-like, Appalachian-flavoured acoustic music.”
Being so geographically removed from the ‘Mountain’ music of the United States is no obstacle to influence – doing justice to a genre that has emerged from such a distinct locality and era; the American South during the Great Depression – is the difficult part.
Not so with the Haints.
In reviewing their 2006 debut, The Haints of Dean Hall, Grant Smithies in the Sunday Star Times concluded that:
“The result is an album rich in atmosphere, steeped in stoic sadness, made in New Zealand but peopled by mysterious American ghosts.”
Sleeper is equally rich in sparse melodic and emotional stories, you can get it here as part of Arch Hill’s continuing philanthropic Free Range series.
The Haints of Dean Hall – Very American
Someone Else’s Ghost
A ‘Haint’ is a supernatural reference from author Harper Lee’s Alabama novel, To Kill a Mockingbird:
“That yard’s a mighty long place for little girls to cross at night,” Jem teased. “Ain’t you scared of haints?”
Despite this obvious reference, I don’t think the Haints intentionally set out to create ‘haunting’ or ‘dark’ songs. This aberration is more geographic transposition than a gothic fantasy – the apparition, or haint, being used as a memorial to a feeling, an inkling, an ‘old thing’ – where emotions are so familiar, that possession, rather than deja-vu, becomes the reality.
“What was that old thing,” Jem said, “Angel bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath.”
With this in mind, the Haints music presents as a half-speed sound-track, accompanying faded family movies; striped to a skeletal frame and delivered with that wistful melancholy that intuitively shrouds what we can recognize culturally as ‘Country,’ and politically as ‘Blues.’
The Haints of Dean Hall – Holy Haint
When all is not Black and White
It will not surprise you to hear that during the 1920’s it was customary for the major Southern record companies to segregate the kinds of music they recorded; white ‘hillbilly’ or ‘old-time’ music versus ‘race’ or ‘blues’ music. Yet as Charles Wolfe observes in his liner notes to A Lighter Shade of Pale (‘White Country Blues’ 1926-1938):
“Both the fans and the musicians knew this segregation was artificial at best, and that throughout the South, there was much more give-and-take in the music than some Northerners thought.”
Or for that matter what the rest of the world might have observed, given the South’s endemic social segregation.
Wolfe goes on to say:
“While much early white country music had been derived from old ballads and sentimental songs, from the very beginning many younger white musicians had been fascinated with the blues.”
Consequently over the years a new genre was forged; ‘White Country Blues.’ Wolfe points out:
“For the miners in bleak company towns in the Appalachians, for textile mill workers in North Georgia and North Carolina, for sharecroppers in Arkansas, for dust bowl victims in Oklahoma, these white blues had as much meaning as their black counterparts.”
All Roads Lead South
Today when it comes to transcending the audiences that ‘White Country Blues’ once knew as home, groups such as Megafaun (North Carolina), Bowerbirds (North Carolina) and Mountain Man (Vermont) have found popularity as far distant as seems possible; within rock, pop and alternative audiences.
Megafaun – Worried Mind
Bowerbirds – Silver Clouds
Mountain Man – Sewee Sewee
Beyond American shores (and as curious as it seems) in Scandinavia The Concretes (Sweden) have at times dropped pop to display ‘White Country Blues’ song-writing empathy (In particular, Branches on the well-littered Lay Our Battle-axe Down album), and the female trio My bubba & Mi (Iceland, Sweden and Denmark) display a particularly authentic homage.
My bubba & Mi – Bubba’s Blues
Here in New Zealand The Haints of Dean Hall show almost complete empathy; like some Southern wanderer / explorer who finds they have come to the end of their road – with no-where to go and with nothing else to do – but turn on their heels and head for home.
The Haints of Dean Hall – My Pomeranian
I highly recommend searching out the following ‘White Country Blues’ artists if you wish to hear more of the genre’s heritage: Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys; The Sweet Violet Boys; The Rhythm Wreckers; Charlie Poole; The Callahan Brothers; Bill Cox; The Prairie Ramblers, and W Lee O’Daniel & His Hillbilly Boys.
W Lee O’Daniel & His Hillbilly Boys vocals Texas Rose – Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
Notes and References:
White Country Blues 1926-1938 A Lighter Shade of Pale, liner notes by Charles K. Wolfe. Legacy Blues, Radio City Station, New York.
united state by the Subliminals has been reissued by Flying Nun, listen & buy here: www.flyingnun.co.nz/shop/71
Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, liner notes by Samuel Charters, Vanguard, Sony Music
The Haints of Dean Hall, four songs from their debut are available here: www.thehaintsofdeanhall.com/page1/page1.html
Sleeper by The Haints of Dean Hall can be downloaded here: archhillrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/sleeper
An interview with The Haints of Dean Hall following the release of Sleeper can be heard on Radio New Zealand, along with a 2006 interview following their debut release here: www.radionz.co.nz/search?mode=results&queries_all_query=haints+
A trailer for Sand Mountain by Kathryn McCool can be viewed here: