Disorientating, chilling, dark and dramatic: the new album from Italy’s Ho.Bo is a lot of fun!
Release Date: 2nd October 2020
Label: Kono Dischi
Listening to Ho.Bo is a disorientating, eerie, dark, dramatic and often chilling experience. They’re a six-piece band from Biella, Piedmont, in Northern Italy, and their sound is a hot, spicy amalgam of dark folk, Delta Blues and alt-country. If you haven’t heard them, the nearest description I can offer of their sound is probably something like Dr. John in his Gris-Gris period, with liberal lashings of Gogol Bordello and the occasional touch of Captain Beefheart. It’s quite a heady mix!
Ho.Bo got together in 2017 and the band comprises Samuel Manzoni on vocals and acoustic guitar, Andrea Bertoli on piano, farfisa and Wurlitzer, Filippo Sperotto on lead guitar, Mattia Rodighiero on drums, Marco Tommaso on banjo, bass and harmonica and Edoardo Perona on guitar. Together they make quite a sound. The bluesy, or occasionally pastoral, instrumentation providing a substantial, exciting and melodic base for Samuel’s intense, gritty, and usually spoken-word vocals. The new album, A Man With A Gun Lives Here, picks up where their debut album, 2019’s 2/10, left off, with nine new songs that flit between the band’s favoured genres.
This isn’t an album for everyone… It’s an album that will either inspire or mystify and there’s no option to take the middle ground. Sam’s vocals, which dominate the production, provide much of the drama and contribute heavily to the overall sound. I enjoyed them and my only disappointment was that the lyrics were often hard to decipher. A great pity because he sounds like he’s telling some pretty exciting, and probably very humorous stories, particularly in Cold Blood and the epic The Curse of Peak Hill. The instrumentation is marvelous. The band are tight, accomplished and in-your-face and the choice of instrumentation is always entirely in keeping with the mood and subject matter of the song. Special mention is particularly due to Filippo’s excellent bluesy guitar contributions which illuminate virtually every track.
As for the songs themselves, the opening track Hoboes That Pass In TheNight sets the scene perfectly with its twangy bluesy guitar and ghostly spoken vocal – a theme that continues in Prairie Dogs, the first single to be taken from this collection. The band combines deliciously on Falling Down Henry to deliver a spooky, voodoo-laden tune and then build the suspense dramatically on the Balkan-flavoured In Cold Blood. On A Tiny Man Called Smith, Ho.Bo is joined on vocals, banjo and harmonica by their friend Swanz – The Lonely Cat, founder and frontman of Italian band Dead Cat In A Bag for a slightly grotesque story about a small man who was killed by mistake. It’s a great song, one of the most interesting on the album with hilarious lyrics, and a brilliant ending which reminded me, for some reason of The Bonzos’ Bad Blood (!)
Summer Clouds is a multi-themed song that takes in snatches of folk, heavy metal, R&B and ends with a power ballad and which entertains and baffles in equal measures and Psalm is the band at their most Beefheart-alike. The album’s centrepiece is probably the seven-minute epic, The Curse Of Peak Hill. It’s a song that builds slowly around a slow, heavy, bluesy guitar riff that provides the backing for Samuel in his most intense storytelling mood and the band really does cook.
Bones Orchard wraps up the offering. It’s an unexpected acoustic number with some nice C&W harmonica, all of which belie the chilling vocal and lyric. An awesome end to an intriguing album.
Watch the official video for A Tiny Man Called Smith (Featuring Swanz – The Lonely Cat) here: