The Pine Hill Haints, the Huntsville, Alabama, band that played at White Water last night, caught my eye because they’re on K Records, the Washington State outfit that’s given us the Microphones and other lo-fi heroes. The Haints were nothing like those bands; they’re firmly rooted in Southern folk traditions. They’d been recording for four years before Calvin Johnson, K’s founder, ran into them on the road and liked them enough to release last year’s “Ghost Dance” on the label.
The Haints didn’t stray too far from the old-timey rock style that’s so popular around here – they played a rollicking “St. James Infirmary” and an equally energetic version of “The Cuckoo,” the song Greil Marcus considers the pièce de résistance of Harry Smith’s anthology – but their instrumentation brought a fresh twist to the standards. There was an acoustic guitar, of course, but also a washboard, a mandolin, a chrome reverb microphone, a single cymbal-less snare drum, and some sort of bass instrument that was essentially a piece of twine strung up between an upright broomstick and a bucket. About seven people in the room weren’t regulars or friends of the band, but anyone around caught one of the more wonderfully weird sets to come through Little Rock this year.
The Can Kickers, from New Haven, Connecticut, and Counterclockwise, apparently a Haints side project, opened the show. Counterclockwise, who brought a kazoo and a female vocalist into the mix, strayed towards the silly (e.g., an almost unrecognizable version of “When Doves Cry”). The Can Kickers played folk with a bit more gravitas. Although the singer’s voice didn’t quite seem up to snuff, some fine fiddle playing anchored the tunes.