Hellbillies have been Norway’s leading country rock band for 20 years. During these years they have played 1500 concerts and on Monday they will release their 13th album, aptly called “Tretten” (Thirteen). (Picture: Aslag and Lars Haavard Haugen 2011)
What characterizes Hellbillies as a band, are strong melodies by singer Aslag Haugen and lyrics by Arne Moslaatten, great guitar playing by guitarist Lars Haavard Haugen, and a super tight rhythm section by Arne Sandum and Bjorn Gunnar Sando. On their former CDs they have produced classical songs like Den finast eg veit (The most beautiful I know), Paa Aal stasjon (At Aal Sation), a Norwegian version of Hal Ketchum’s Past The Point Of Rescue – “Krasafaren Steinbu” and many other.
Live Hellbillies are solid, professional and without competition on the country and country rock scene in Norway. I will go as far as to say they are one of Norway’s best live acts in all genres. Not from elaborate stage props and effects, but from just great performing of really good songs.
Tretten as an album differs from their former releases. Not much, but enough to make it noteworthy. The production is different from their twelfth CD, Leita etter lykka (Looking for happiness) from 2010. While that one had a darker and more “muddy” sound, Tretten is clearer, with a crisp sound on the vocals and instruments. The production is definitely a departure from what they have sounded like earlier, and I like it.
There is also more experimentation with styles on Tretten than on earlier CDs. That in itself is a good thing in my opinion. Some song, like Pille med braak (A Pill WIth Noise), which reminds me of 70’s psychedelic rock. On this song and many of the others they have expanded the band with Kim Fairchild on backing vocals, which gives them a slightly different and better vocal sound than before.
On more songs than on earlier CDs Hellbillies tend to drift more towards rock than country. It is no secret that the Haugen brothers are big fans of The Allman Brothers, and these influences show, being a good and tasty spice in the Hellbillies sound. The other parts of Hellbillies’ sound is Aslag Haugen’s characteristic vocals, a tight and full band, plus Lars Haavard Haugen’s guitars.
For those of us who know Norwegian, Arne Moslaatten’s lyrics are also an important part of Hellbillies’ sound. Usually Aslag makes the songs with English lyrics that Moslaatten translates to Norwegian, adding his own special twist. If you should want to hear the original lyrics, you can buy the vinyl version of Tretten. There you’ll get a bonus LP with all the songs in English versions.
Lars Haavard Haugen 2010
My favorite songs on Tretten are Pille med braak, Kom te meg (Come to Me) and Leite natt og dag (Searching Night And Day). This is their only cover song, originally written by Stephen Bruton, the producer of their Urban Twang CD that was released in 2001. Bruton died in 2009, and the Hellbillies’ cover is a nice homage to Stephen Bruton. This is also one of the two songs where Lars Haavard Haugen does the vocals.
All in all Tretten is a CD that shows that Helbillies have no plans of quitting yet. On the contrary, they show more positive innovation here than they have done on their preceding CDs. After 24 years together and 20 years since their first CD, this is quite an accomplishment. November 24th they will play a 20 year anniversary show at Oslo Spektrum, with a capacity of 7000. Hopefully I can bring a review of the concert here afterwards.
All pictures are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission. You can see more pictures of Hellbillies at my picture site Artist Pictures.