REVIEW: Odetta Hartman’s “Old Rockhounds Never Die” is Beautiful Marriage of Alt-country and Art Music


You’ve probably never heard an album quite like Odetta Hartman’s Old Rockhounds Never Die (Northern Spy Records). Hartman, who describes her music as cowboy soul, marries alt-country foundations to experimental art sounds and field recordings. Hartman’s “back porch banjos” and “untuned violins” achieve a unique sound that stays with the listener. Magically, this album reaches into the deepest roots of American music while pushing forward the cutting edge of the genre.

Hartman’s gorgeous voice does essential work here. Layering in her own voice for background vocals creates a haunting, ethereal effect. The simple, effective banjo melodies only enhance this, as well as serving as rhythm.

Old Rockhounds Never Die also showcases Hartman talent as a lyricist as well as a composer. On the upbeat “The Ocean,” she sings “I want to run out by the sail, I don’t have the energy for anyone else, a solo excursion, total immersion, I gotta find the ocean in me.” Hartman’s lyrics, music and sound can’t really be discussed separately, though. The song opens with field recordings of the ocean (or some body of water), and it also includes the sound of dripping water.

Hartman masterfully combines lyrics, music, and naturally occurring sounds. Nothing here sounds forced, and it all flows. Using field recordings, and using them correctly, as Hartman does, takes a great deal of thought, time, and effort. This is very different from, say, opening the window the to a home studio and letting ambient sounds bleed onto on an album. Hartman clearly intends for every sound on this album to be on this album, exactly as it is. The craft that went into the making of Old Rockhounds deserves much respect.

Old Rockhounds Never Die is a sophisticated, intelligent album that works on many levels. But it’s also a fun record, something that almost everyone will find new and different and exciting. You can just kick back, hit play, and enjoy what a beautiful piece of work Odetta Hartman has made.

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