Charismo is the Hackensaw Boys record you’ve been waiting to hear. The 11-track album feels like the zenith release of the band’s 17 years, gathering their diverse life experiences and myriad of roots influences, and crystallizing them into a magnum opus on the Hackensaw way of being. Traditional Appalachian and Delta music lay the groundwork, but it’s injected with a heavy dose of the contemporary, good-times-roll kind of spit and vinegar the band has become known for over the years.
Produced by Larry Campbell – who has lent his talents to Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, and countless others – Charismosees the band reeled in and slightly refined, though still as spirited as ever. The songs (all written by longtime Hackensaws David Sickmen and Ferd Moyse) are tinged with an attitude of scrappy resilience, spinning tales and metaphors of everyday, working class struggles and triumphs. With Campbell’s production, the Hackensaw’s somewhat casual, porch-front aesthetic is sharpened around the edges, focusing in on the simple beauty of their melodies and the earnestness in their delivery.
Transcendent of the parts that make up its whole, the record has a collective feel that reflects the band’s rambling history; the Hackensaws have been a home for dozens of musicians over the years, but have steadfastly endured through life’s many changes. With Charismo, the Boys don’t let down on providing their signature ever-present, feel-good energy. It’s the kind of intangible presence that reminds us of our connection to other people and to our history, to the idea that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves.
The name of the album is the same as the percussive instrument invented by Justin Neuhardt (who played with the band in its early days) that has been employed nightly since the band’s maiden tour 16 years ago. The charismo is made of recycled wood and scrap – tin cans, hubcaps, and so on – and is constantly broken down and re-assembled as the parts wear out and new ones are found. Much like the fluid, ever-changing nature of the instrument, Charismo shows us that The Hackensaw Boys are always moving forward like a mighty wheel turning, continuing to spread the (not quite) bygone spirit of down-home music to old and new audiences alike.