Houndmouth are from Indiana, USA, and you would have to be deaf or at least not pay the slightest bit of attention to their debut album From the Hills below the City not to notice it. Houndmouth trade in bluesy, Americana-inspired ditties about love, travelling and drinking which leads to an album of pretty bog-standard, alt-country fare.
The album begins with the jaunty On The Road which is an accessible and catchy plod through. The Beatles are perhaps the only non-American influence which can be gleaned from their sound, with harmonised vocal lines working perfectly together. The tones of a Hammond organ in the background add to the Americana vibes.
Sadly, this laid back track is about as raucous as it gets. What follows is not an unspeakably bad album per se, but it is incredibly dull. Houndmouth are stuck in one gear, with a great deal of their songs being of a similar tempo, structure and texture. Long As You're At Home is a slow burning bluesy number as is Come On Illinois and Houston Train. Penitentiary adds an incredibly tasteful guitar solo to the formula and Ludlow takes it away again, replacing it with some Bob Dylan style vocal drawling. Hey Rose comes across like a second rate Drive-By Truckers impression. The last three songs on the album seem to almost fade into background noise. You have heard it all before.
Perhaps where the album shows Houndmouth's biggest strengths is Casino (Bad Things), which replaces the non-descript ordinariness for some actual, previously mislaid, personality. On this song, female vocals take the lead which strain somewhere between Courtney Love and Stevie Nicks to give it an overdose of spunk and sass. The song is about gambling, smoking, drinking and taking drugs but, where on the other songs of the album the clichéd lyrics feel like a band copying from the Great Americana Songbook and pasting them together, there is enough personality and character here to make it work for them, but only on this one occasion.
It is a terrible shame that this heady high is only reached at one point during From The Hills Below The City. It is clear that Houndmouth are a sickeningly talented collective of musicians, with no less than three of the four band members taking an (at least) passable turn at lead vocals, and all of the instrumental parts and vocal harmonies executed to perfection. The problem is that Houndmouth have not put enough of themselves on to this album. This could be any band doing alt-country by numbers. This is a band that could be capable of great things if they stepped away from the obvious clichés.