Spotless acoustic folkster T. Hallenbeck's third offering Packrat builds on the budding genius of his Doubting Thomas
with a new album simply called Packrat. Well what this brooding singer/songwriter packrats is simply a myriad of melodies,
catchy hooks, and crafty lyrics. The instrumentation can sound as complex and organic as an orchestra at times and other times it
sounds like a stripped down coffeehouse joint. The devilishly talented Hallenbeck not only sings and writes all the music but he
also plays all the guitars as well as the dulcimer, mandola, cello, bass, viola, keys, and mandolin. To utter "impressive"
would be almost oxymoronic at this point. Perfect is perhaps more fitting.
Emeryville, California's T. Hallenbeck sounds very much like a young Ian Anderson... particularly from around the time of Jethro
Tull's Thick As A Brick album. Being big fans of Thick As A Brick, we can't help but be impressed by Hallenbeck's music.
Packrat is a sparse collection of acoustic pop tracks that was recorded from 2005 to 2006. Hallenbeck is a master of the guitar,
as his songs combine intricate and nifty guitar riffs with unusual chord progressions. Not only are his songs reminiscent of Anderson,
but his vocal is startlingly similar. In an age where everyone is recording and releasing music (even when they have no talent or
credibility)... this young man stands out from the pack because he has real talent. Standout cuts include "Wrath of God," "Jealous of
Joe," "Redneck Divorce," and "Robert Johnson." Excellent lyrics throughout.
The bearded, denim-clad, multi-instrumentalist (guitars, dulcimer, mandolin, cello, viola, etc.) Hallenbeck (Indiana-born, Ohio-bred)
now calls the same Northern California 'burb (Emeryville) that brought us Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) his home, and as with
much of Chasny's work, there's a rustic, backwoodsy feel to Hallenbeck's fourth self-released solo album. However, his folky, backporch
pronouncements are not as foggy and shrouded in mystery as Chasny's, although the hesitant, wyrdfolky "Madam I'm Adam,"
with its percussive drums and bowls swirling over, under and around his dulcimer and mandolin accompaniment comes pretty damn close to
Chasny's heady atmospherics! Still, the first thing I noticed about Hallenbeck's voice was the strikingly familiar tones and phrasings
of fellow Midwestern singer/songwriter, Cary Wolf (The Petals, although it's his solo, acoustic, psychedelic side show Stuntz's Blue Leg
Expedition that kept creeping into my mind as I got deeper into the album). Hallenbeck also writes simpler, but not simplistic melodies,
and tracks like "Jealous of Joe" also benefit from some carefully placed harmonies.
There's a suitably bluesy, funky stomp to "Redneck Divorce," whose lyrics surrealistically juxtapose stereotypical images of
trailer parks and beer runs with scenes from The Wizard of Oz, and Hallenbeck's clever twist of a phrase serves him well on the
metaphorical "Lazarus." (He's the dude that Christ raised from the dead, for anyone who's forgotten their first grade Bible studies.)
In Hallenbeck's version, he and a friend go out for a wild night of indiscretion and biblical references to Cain and Abel abound with
Hallenbeck and friend 'raising Cain' as Christ 'raised the dead [Lazarus].' The closing song/story "Robert Johnson" is an amusing
fairy tale in the narrative style of the Mark Twain of Redneck Caberet, Billy C. Wirtz (check out his magnum oafus, "Pianist Envy.")
Overall, we're treated to some meek, introspective folk that will appeal to fans of like-minded souls such as John Darnielle (the Mountain
Goats), Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide), and, of course Cary Wolf and Ben Chasny.
After I'm convicted in catchy court, I'll have to stand trial on separate charges in folksy court, which could lead to the suspension
of my artistic license. By the way, the repetitiveness in "Jealous of Joe" is deliberate - it's supposed to tell you the same thing
over and over again, over and over again. -TH
Packrat is the latest release from Bay Area musician T.Hallenbeck. As a solo artist T. Hallenbeck has previously released three albums:
Doubting Thomas (2004), Secret Society (2001) and Atavist (1999). Before going solo he played in the bands Harm
Farm and Crank.
Packrat is basically a straightforward folksy singer-songwriter album. The music is a bit sparse at times and many of the songs
sound too similar to each other, but the music is well played and fairly catchy. T. Hallenbeck's vocals are pretty good on Packrat, he
shows a good range and the album features some nice harmonizing. Lyrically songs like "Jealous Of Joe" are a bit simple and
Overall: Well performed folksy singer-songwriter album.
This is the third album from Hallenbeck and it can be neatly summed up as acoustic folk. Not only that, but the multi-talented
Hallenbeck writes the songs, sings and plays all the instruments. To finish off, the whole package was recorded, mixed and mastered
by - well, you have a guess! The tracks are catchy with some clever lyrics, and the backing varied from stripped down to near
orchestral. There is a sense of familiarity and sameness on a number of tracks but on the whole, if you like simple, well played
folk then I don't think you'll be disappointed.