Album Review: Hares on the Mountain’s Sound Hewn Through Year of Yeoman Musicianship

When I reviewed Hares on the Mountain initial, self-titled release a year ago, I could scarcely envision what they have become now. Those first recordings were the product of scarcely more than George Neal, Ryan Thomas Becker and a four-track recorder. The mixture of traditional and novel tunes came out well, if grainy and meek. These days, Hares on the Mountain has evolved from the brainchild of Neal and Becker to a full band, brimming with some of Denton’s best talent. Their new album, It Will Only Hurt Forever, is a representation of a year’s worth of performing and developing as a full band.

I remember seeing Hares on the Mountain at The Free Man in Deep Ellum, where they used to hold a Thursday night residency. I heard a couple of their first shows, when the band was not quite yet formed. A year later, they were scary tight, six capable musicians who seemed to know exactly what to do at any moment. Violinist Petra Kelly walked in the door as the band was just beginning their second tune. She grabbed her violin and picked up the tune in stride. For her and the other musicians in Hares, music comes as easily and vitally as breathing, and you can glimpse it in the care with which they treat each song.

Hares on the Mountain listens like an old friend. These are the melodies with whom you share a drink, a laugh and a sneer. As Becker sees it, it is folk music in the proper sense: music for folks. Like the initial, ad-hoc release, It Will Only Hurt Forever is a shuffled deck of tunes from antiquity and new ones, most written by Neal. I found out which those were, but I will let listeners make their own guesses. The answers are surprising. As I have said previoiusly, Neal has a talent for composing tunes that sound like they were penned with a quill. As much as anyone I know, he is a man for all eras.

Four of the ten songs on …Hurt Forever can be found on the first release, but they have grown and evolved with the band’s formation. These are different snapshots, a better representation of a multi-instrumental band that has developed a natural feel for one another. Hares on the Mountain have held a residency at Dan’s Silverleaf for about a year, performing every Sunday in the late afternoon. This slough of performances has polished the band’s instincts, hence the aplomb I glimpsed at The Free Man.

The singing duties are also more distributed. Whereas all of Hares’ first songs were sung by Neal himself, he now delegates vocals to band members who he believes can tell the tales best. He does not treat band members like the sock puppets that the band has been known to pull out during live sing-a-longs. Rather, he utilizes his band mates as proxies to speak on his behalf.

There’s an eternal pall hanging over the appropriately titled album. The songs, old and new, belong to the tradition of treating death with frankness and humor. These are dense story songs with characters whose humanity shines through the savvy musicianship and human voices, especially George Neal’s emphatic, gravelly delivery. Whether it is an outlaw facing the noose or a pair of forlorn lovers or Joseph, father of Jesus, they all speak with intimate voices in vivid landscapes.

Hares on the Mountain are the perfect testament to the archetype of the Denton yeoman. The band first made the album available weeks ago at 35 Denton. Their version of a press release was a throwaway comment Neal made at a show. They are writers and instrumentalists who care about little beyond music, which compels me to care about them very much. It Will Only Hurt Forever is nothing less than a solid album by some of DFW’s top musicians.

You can still find the band performing every Sunday evening at 5:00pm at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton.

Photos by Andi Harman