Monday, February 05, 2018

Buried Treasure: Will Hodgson - Southpaw (1996)

In the past I've usually hesitated to write about artists who are truly local because I've always believed most readers will not be interested in them. These are the people, many of them quite talented, who appear at the local bars and outdoor summer music festivals on the grounds of your local high school or town hall and usually have no reputation at all outside of the few locales they play.

Fortunately, as we all know, the Internet allows the whole world to discover music that they could never have been exposed to before and because the web has been around for more than just a handful of years now I decided that it's time for me to get over my provincial ambivalence. Case in point: Imagine where music would be today if record store owner Brian Epstein felt the same way when he went to hear a certain, unknown rock quartet at The Cavern in Liverpool, England back in 1961. So, keeping that in mind it's time to discuss the music of Will Hodgson.

Hodgson is the leader of the veteran outfit known as The Mighty Manatees. They are what he calls a "musical cooperative" rather than a band because the group's lineup is quite fluid. The Manatees can perform as a ten piece unit or as a duo. Their repertoire includes reggae, country, blues, folk, ska, funk, zydeco and rock 'n roll. They have played with America, David Amram, Commander Cody, The Spin Doctors, Richard Hell, The Radiators, U2 and more. (I'm going to have to ask how they managed to play with Bono's outfit.)

Hodgson's solo album, Southpaw, was released in 1996 but recorded a couple of years earlier, and it's an enjoyable Americana (or country-rock as the sub-genre was once known) set of ten songs featuring outstanding musicianship and very good songwriting.

The album was recorded in a basement studio in Phoenixville, PA on an eight track mixing board that was down one channel so Hodgson used only seven to make the album.

Hodgson played most of the instruments himself. You'll hear him on guitars, mandolin, keyboards, and on lead vocals. To prove that he is not just a run of the mill wedding act or local coffeehouse performer the bandleader was supported on the record by Chip Roberts who played the guitar solo on "Cracker." Roberts now plays with Tommy Stinson (The Replacements and Guns 'N Roses) and his band. Kurt Johnston, who has worked with Bon Jovi, provided pedal steel guitar and dobro.

The subject matter is diverse and includes songs about love and relationships ("Emma" and "Anniversary Song") as well as thoughts about life in general ("Damned If You Do," and the outstanding "Cracker").

If you're not in the Northwestern suburbs of Philadelphia you may never be able to hear The Mighty Manatees live but you can surely visit their website and listen to all of Southpaw below. It is currently only available for purchase by download.

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