The spotlight on Nashville, with its musical values and timeless traditions, is currently bright. And no band embodies what’s right about 21st century Nashville more completely than the quintet known as Humming House. It’s the way they weave together threads of Music City’s folk, soul, and bluegrass legacies. It’s in the inspirational and revealing songwriting. It’s in their acoustic instrumentation, presenting mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar and bass in fresh roles. It’s in the pleasant tension between rousing energy and nuanced arrangements. And it’s in the voices, with two complimentary stylists up front and backed by the full band’s rapturous harmonies.
Revelries, released on Nashville label Rock Ridge Music, is the third recording bearing the Humming House name, yet it’s something of a debut. Version one of the band came together in 2011 when songwriter Justin Wade Tam called on some friends from a local Celtic music jam, to flesh out recordings of songs he’d written. The sessions, assisted by Tam’s star producer colleagues Mitch Dane and Vance Powell, mixed strains of bluegrass and Irish braided with vintage swing and open-throated early 60s hootenanny folk music. Humming House earned some quick attention for videos of its infectious songs “Cold Chicago” and “Gypsy Django.” They landed performance slots with tastemakers such as Lightning 100, Daytrotter, and the Americana Music Association festival. They had chops, respect, and trajectory.
After that, two personnel additions galvanized the band. Leslie Rodriguez brought a lustrous female vocal to mesh with Tam’s hearty singing. And fiddler Bobby Chase brought classical training and down-home fire. That rounded out a band of highly skilled instrumentalists, including Josh Wolak on mandolin, and Ben Jones on acoustic bass. Between the five of them, there’s scarcely a genre or period that somebody in the band hasn’t spent time learning or embracing, from Leslie’s early love of show tunes, to Josh’s time playing bluegrass, to Bobby’s occasional beat boxing. They’re the picture of East Nashville’s melting pot musical culture, and Revelries is the first album these musicians have written, arranged and recorded together.
As complete as they are in the studio and on record, Humming House is fundamentally and emphatically a live band. With scarcely a tube’s worth of amplification or electricity and a drum kit’s worth of percussion distributed among the band members, they emit force on stage and demand attention. They’ve rocked rooms of all sizes and played Forecastle Festival, Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots Festival, and the Cayamo Cruise with the elite of Americana. They opened the new Music City Roots hall in The Factory in 2014, sharing the bill with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.
If the new Nashville means anything, it’s about musicianship and authenticity. Quite often that results in sounds that are fascinating and appealing to critics and fellow musicians. Occasionally, artistry emerges that’s both profound and widely appealing. And when it does, as with Humming House, it’s cause for revelry.