If you’ve ever visited one of Nashville’s many honky-tonks, you’ll find a certain sort of musician for whom the classic twang of country music comes absolutely naturally. For them, turning out tunes for hours on end isn’t some carefully arranged, long-rehearsed set; it’s a basic daily instinct and their professional calling. Though the men in Hoodang are firmly based in Ann Arbor, they’re undoubtedly that sort of musician. With excellent musicianship, thoughtful songwriting, and a natural aptitude for Americana, the quartet does justice to its genre.
It’s easy to gravitate to front man and lead creative force David Rossiter in describing Hoodang, but it’d be criminal to overlook the excellent players backing him. Ralph McKee’s bass and John Crawford’s drums form a rock-solid rhythm section. Laid-back and unshowy, they lay down solid groundwork for the rest of the group. Dave Keeney’s guitar work is more conspicuous, and rightfully so. Keeney executes everything from plunking rhythms to nimble rockabilly-style licks to shimmering pedal steel leads with the same masterful ease. Nobody in this group really looks like he’s working hard; even when they string three consecutive hour-long sets together, this all seems second nature to them.
Heading up the group is singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist Rossiter. Hoodang’s musical element is truly rich, but Rossiter’s perceptive, well-drawn lyrics make the band more than just a particularly accomplished group of honky-tonkers. Rossiter is frequently likened to Steve Earle (whose “Texas Eagle” Hoodang has covered), and the comparison sticks, given Rossiter’s well-worn vocal tone and the similarly well-worn characters in his songs. There’s a story to each of Rossiter’s lyrical protagonists, and it’s usually a sad one. In the classic country mode, Rossiter is a chronicler of folks who are down on their luck and trying to fight their way up. Whether he’s telling the tale of a truck driver or a condemned man on his way to the electric chair, the personalities in his songs are engaging and the details evocative.
Like his bandmates, Rossiter isn’t particularly showy onstage (although he banters freely and warmly between songs). But he’s been the focal point for Hoodang for over a decade. Rossiter formed the band in 2003 with bassist Rich Rickman, and while Rickman and other backing musicians have come and gone, Hoodang has remained Rossiter’s baby. He doesn’t come off as a diva, though; he’s got a fine band to support his efforts, and he knows it.
Hoodang recently released its second album, Blissfield, following it up with a typically busy schedule of area shows, including one at the Ark on March 1. In a town where folk is a lot bigger than country, and at a time when the label “country” itself refers primarily to an inauthentic corporate product, Hoodang’s thoughtful, accomplished Americana is truly valuable. We’re fortunate to have them this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.