News Archive 2008


I’m dumping older news, from before the move to a blog here. If there are pictures or videos that don’t show up, you’ll find them here:

November 20th 2008

A new review of Sings Songs for the Masses from Sepiachord (from the site: “Sepiachord is the “genre that doesn’t exist”. It is to music what “steampunk” is to literature and cinema: something that looks back to the past to comment on the present while looking sideways at the future. A cubist aural experience.”)

“There’s the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The problem with that cliche is this: *That’s what covers are there for!* Covers are there to give you some idea about what can be found inside, there to pique your curiosity…

I raised an eyebrow when I slipped Hunter Robertson’s “Sings Songs for the Masses” from its envelope. Young guy, long haired, holding a baby, fuzzy focus… I estimated that I was in for a listening of homemade but uninventive folk. Something young and soft.

How (wonderfully) wrong I was. Hunter’s not as young as he looks… at least not in his soul and the music is anything but soft. “Sings Songs for the Masses” is a collection of gritty americana with Robertson’s skilled banjo playing as the focus. It’s fairly traditional (more than half the numbers are vintage tunes) but this collection never sounds stale. Perhaps that has as much to do with Hunter’s gruffy Tom Waits-like voice as it does the energy and vitality of his playing.

And it does sound vital. This isn’t some stodgy, dusty recreation of old-time field recordings (if it was Robertson probably wouldn’t include kazoo in the instrumentation or a greek folk song in the repertoire). Hunter brings youth and energy to these songs, which bodes well for his future outings.”
- Sepiachord

September 3rd 2008

- JP Candelier took some pictures of us recently. He’s a great photographer and you can see them all here.

- A couple of new reviews for my album Sings Songs for the Masses:

Trad Magazine review

“If I hadn’t seen the picture of Hunter Robertson on the CD cover I would have thought I was dealing with an older person. But no, in fact he’s a fairly young man. And that’s what is amazing! At times you would think you were listening to an old 78, but recorded with modern technology. Impressive! Hunter’s main instrument is the 5-string banjo, which he plays to perfection in all the old-time styles: clawhammer, two and three finger picking. Also the 12-string guitar, which is less common nowadays. I consider this to be one of the best CDs I’ve heard recently. To listen to, first of all, his compositions on the banjo: “Threw Down” and “Souris Mécanique”, and then his very beautiful version of “Red Wing” on the fretless gut-strung banjo as well as “Crawdad Hole” on the 12-string, a little treasure.”

“Si je n’avais pas vu la photo de Hunter Robertson sur la jaquette du CD, j’aurais cru avoir affaire à une personne d’un certain âge. Mais non, en fait, il s’agit d’un tout jeune homme. Et c’est cela qui est étonnant ! On croirait écouter un vieux 78 tours par moment, mais enregistré avec la technologie moderne. Bluffant ! L’instrument de prédilection de Hunter est le banjo 5 cordes qu’il joue à la perfection dans tous les styles de l’old time : clawhammer, two et three finger picking. Et puis aussi la guitare douze cordes, ce qui est moins courant à l’heure actuelle. Je considère que ce CD est l’un des meilleurs que j’ai entendus récemment. A écouter en priorité ses compositions au banjo : “Threw down” et “Souris mécanique”, et puis sa très belle version de “Red wing” au banjo fretless à cordes en boyau ainsi que “Crawdad hole” à la douze cordes, une petite merveille.”
- Claude Vue writing for Trad Magazine (France)

Bluegrass Unlimited review

Hunter Robertson is an old-time music musician from New England who has compiled an unusual 14-song collection blending both traditional and original material. Hunter performs all vocal and instrumental parts that include banjo, fretless banjo, 12-string guitar, kazoo, and electric guitar. Robertson’s raspy vocals may not be universally acceptable, but they do fit into the fabric of the arrangements. Featured performances include “Pretty Polly,” Robertson’s own “She Had Eyes,” “Ol’ Virginee,” and a bizarre rendering of “Crawdad Hole.” In spite of its title, Hunter Robertson “Sings Songs For The Masses” may be of limited interest except to those daring souls prepared to venture into unexplored territory.
- Bluegrass Unlimited (Sept. 2008)

August 1st 2008

Well! A great review of my CD in the latest issue of Sing Out!

Sing Out! review


unter Robertson is a modern day banjo songster. Sings Songs for the Masses is his first CD, and it’s a solo effort through and through with Hunter playing all the instruments and establishing a wide range of sounds all the while remaining solidly rooted in traditional old-time and blues.

Although his biographical information is sketchy, the cover photo shows a young man and the promotional material states that he has been playing the banjo and 12-string guitar for nearly 20 years. If I had to guess from listening to the CD, I’d say he’s a much older man. His voice is deep and resonant, and his playing is very reminiscent of Doc Boggs and various Piedmont blues players.

The CD opens with “Threw Down,” one of the half dozen original selections on the recording. It is a short drop-thumb clawhammer banjo piece demonstrating that he is a fine player. “She Had Eyes” follows, a tune that could easily have been heard on a plantation well before the Civil War when African American workers could only play music on whatever happened to be around them. Hunter performs on a self-made instrument called an Opus. It is a piece of music remarkably unaffected by modern styles.

We are introduced to Hunter’s singing through his rendition of “Pretty Polly.” His voice would indicate a life surrounded by the horrors described in the old-time classic. “You Gonna Need Someone On Your Bond” features Hunter as a one man band as he supplies slide banjo, bass drum, high hat, kazoo and vocals. He realistically captures the sound that was quite prevalent in many southern towns on court day. Later, Hunter includes “Milo mou Kokkino,” a Northern Greek tune, as part of a banjo medley containing “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” “Ducks on the Millpond” and “Salmon Tails up the River.”

Hunter Robertson is a highly talented traditional musician. Sings Songs for the Masses is as strong a solo CD as I’ve heard in quite some time.
– TD for Sing Out! (v. 52/2)
You can get the CD here (over on Hark) or from CD Baby or County Sales (their catalog number is HUNTER-2008), or, you can download it from iTunes. You can also get it by special request from Santa Claus.

July 5th 2008

Rambles.Net review

This very nice review of Sings Songs for the Masses, written by Jerome Clark, just went up on

“Listening to Songs for the Masses (that title comprising the album’s one and only flash of humor), I reflected on how rarely these days one hears traditional songs — field recordings aside — performed traditionally. Even less commonly encountered are records by raised-outside-the-tradition artists who choose to recreate a sound that seems to capture the feeling of homespun front-porch, dance-hall, street-corner music from the age before the advent of the recording industry. (Since we have no recordings from back then to guide us, imagination and inference are as omnipresent in the attempt as “authenticity,” of course.)

Hunter Robertson, who now resides in Vermont but who has lived in the United Kingdom, Greece and France, has produced that kind of record. The sole performer, he employs the banjo (along with the occasional fretless, gut-string or gourd variation) as his principal instrument, though 12-string guitar, electric guitar, kazoo and percussion also show up, if less often. There are 14 songs and instrumentals, approximately half of them traditional, the rest originals indistinguishable from traditionals.

Robertson sings in a rolling rumble that will likely put you in a couple of minds: Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart in one, in the other the sort of field recording in which an ethnomusicologist is seeking to document an instrumental style and the singing, rough as a cob, is simply — at least from the immediate academic perspective — extraneous. Contributing to the latter psychic impression is Robertson’s sometime habit of burying his vocal into the mix, if “mix” is not too fancy a word to denote the almost skinless sound; sometimes, if one were a superstitious soul, one might imagine a 200-year-old ghost was accidentally captured on the tape as, otherwise inaudible, it sang to Robertson’s playing of an old tune. All of this, by the way, is perfectly fine by me.

The banjo playing — as exquisite as it is eccentric — has the creaky ambience of a haunted house. “Banjo Medley” is 5:37′s worth of four venerable tunes played clawhammer style, the last of them a Greek folk piece that feels in no way out of place. The African-American spiritual “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” has Robertson’s growled lyrics set on top of a fierce, doom-laden 12-string groove. It is damned scary.

‘Til now, I have not heard a version of “Red Wing” — though long since absorbed by tradition, it began its life as a pop song in the early 20th century — so stark and gloomy as to make one forget just how dopey the lyrics are. Even so, what a melody, all the more attractive for the way Robertson manages to turn it inside out without killing it. In another sit-up-and-take-notice moment, he gives “You Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond” — always emotionally and rhythmically dead-on — the one-man-band treatment.

Songs for the Masses is for neither the masses nor the timid. But if you’re up for a walk through the lonesome valley that stretches across the moonless landscape of the old, weird America, Robertson will show you the way.” – Jerome Clark writing for

You can get the CD here (over on Hark) or from CD Baby or County Sales (their catalog number is HUNTER-2008), or, you can download it from iTunes. You can also get it by special request from Santa Claus.

June 10 2008

The Old-Time Herald review

Well, imagine my pleasure on receiving the June-July issue of The Old-Time Herald today and finding this review of my CD, Sings Songs for the Masses, by Pete Peterson:

“When you live far away from most other musicians, say on Crete, you will probably develop your own styles and write your own songs after wearing out all the recordings you brought with you. On this album, the artist composed about half the songs and tunes; the rest are traditional. His voice is distinctive, sounding like an old blues singer, filtered through a rock musician such as Eddie Vedder. The banjo playing is solid clawhammer with a light, sure touch. Not traditional old-time music as I know it, but eclectic and distinctive.”

You can get the CD here (over on Hark), or from CD Baby or County Sales (their catalog number is HUNTER-2008), or, you can download it from iTunes.

May 21 2008

Casey and I will be doing another radio show next week. It’ll be on at 5 p.m. (EST), Thursday the 29th of May.

Another good piece of news I’ve had floating around for a while: County Sales is carrying my CD, Sings Songs for the Masses.

May 15 2008

You’ve probably seen the news about China (not to mention Burma, too bad their government is making aid almost impossible to get in). It’s dire there, some recent incomplete figures suggest 14,463 people dead, another 14,051 missing, 25,788 buried in the debris and 64,746 injured. They’re still pulling people out of the rubble, but time is getting short! I was at work and it really got to me that while I was waxing some wooden statues there are nearly 26,000 people stuck in the rubble of collapsed buildings, so I’m going to donate what I can towards aid there. I’m writing to urge you to help out as much as you can. I’m donating money to the Scientology Volunteer Ministers ( ), but there are all kinds of other organizations active there – take your pick.

You know that famous quote from John Donne? “Ask not for whom the bell tolls”? That whole section reads: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

May 06 2008

Various good news:

- The Ostrich Testimonies won the Best of Arizona award at the Arizona International Film Festival!

- I was interviewed by New Sound Magazine, you can read it online in their May issue.

- We have a show this Saturday, the 10th of May, at The Monkey House in Winooski, VT. Should be a lot of fun, Curtis Eller, New York’s angriest banjo player and Katie Trautz (of May Fly and Knotty Pine) will be playing that night as well – a fiddle and banjo extravaganza.

April 11 2008

Well, I got a little field recorder recently and have been enjoying it. Here are some of the fruits it has borne:

Run Slave Run (that’s an euphemism, the original is worse. I should probably just call it Pateroller but that leads to confusion with Hobart Smith’s, which is quite a different tune). Clawhammer banjo. fCFCD, tuned down to E or so. Learned this from various fields recordings of people singing, and there’s one version on fife I think, must have been recorded by John Lomax. Great tune, but can’t sing it. It seems though that it was a slave song, not a slave-owner’s (see Conway’s African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia).

Recorded on my bakelite Harmony. For a hundred bucks and being made of plastic it’s quite a banjo!

Liberty. Clawhammer banjo. gCGCD tuned down to who knows where. Learned this from John Burke’s book, Art Rosenbaum’s recording and my father’s playing. Played on an S.S. Stewart strung with nylgut. What a pretty tune.

March 29 2008

The Ostrich Testimonies (for which I wrote and recorded music, see older news) seems to have gotten a good reception at Austin’s South By Southwest festival and reviews are starting to come out. Here’s one from Variety. And he says about the music: “Hunter Robertson’s banjo-driven score is apt accompaniment for doc’s emotional highs and lows.”

March 6th 2008

Ach, Gary Gygax died on Tuesday. I lived and breathed Dungeons & Dragons for a few years. What made it such a great game? I’m not sure – maybe the combination of rampant imagination and sufficient limits to keep things from being too easy. Anyway, I’m sure glad it was around.

March 4th 2008

On February 27th Casey and I played live on Exposure, a show on WRUV hosted by Jeremy Ayers. Our friend Rose came and filmed it. Here’s one of the tunes:

Old Joe Clarke

February 29th 2008

Rod Stradling over at Musical Traditions wrote a nice review of my CD, Sings Songs for the Masses. Excerpts:

“So – this is the second CD I’ve received this month for which the words ‘strange and worthwhile’ seem appropriate…”
“All of the playing is pretty quirky – and extremely interesting…”

You can read the entire review here:

While he likes the instrumental stuff, he’s not so fond of my singing. This is the point of course at which I chime in with “De Gustibus non disputatum est!” But then he likes the rest of it so… some tastes I heartily agree with. It is a great pleasure to have been reviewed there, and I highly recommend the site. Lots of information on a wide variety of traditional musics. It’s where I was introduced to Sardinian polyphonic singing, and that is worth its weight in gold. How much does Sardinian polyphonic singing weigh? I don’t know, but it’s pretty heavy.

February 11 2008

Casey and I got together to practice the other day and we made this short video while we were at it. John Brown’s Dream, or Herve Brown’s Dream, or Little Rabbit or…

Jan. 27 2008

The Ostrich Testimonies, directed by Jonathan VanBallenberghe, for which I wrote and recorded music (played mainly on banjo, with some guitar), is going to be shown soon at the festival South by Southwest. Here’s a new trailer for it:

Jan. 26 2008

~ Well, we had a very nice time at the Monkey the other night. We played a few tunes with Knotty Pine and are talking about maybe getting a dance together there with them. After all, it is dance music we play!

~ In the meantime, we have a couple of dates set to play in Morrisville, VT at The Bee’s Knees on the 24th of February and the 25th of March, 7:30-10:00.

~ I also recently got a stack of CD’s of Sings Songs for the Masses made. Head over to Hark to listen to the songs and to order it.

Jan. 17 2008

Had a great Christmas in Arizona. We went to the Cogburn’s ostrich ranch and visited – I highly recommend it if you’re in the area, especially if you have kids. There’re deer to be pet, ostrich, emus and lorrikeets to be fed, giant truck rides and best of all, ostrich fishing! You have to see it with your own two eyes. Good news on The Ostrich Testimonies documentary, it’s been accepted to South by Southwest, apparently the second largest film festival after Sundance! I should have a new trailer for it up shortly.

Gigs: Casey Abair (on fiddle) and I will be playing at the Monkey House in Winooski, VT on Thursday the 24th of January. Things get going at 8. Also that evening will be Paddy Reagan and Knotty Pine. Hope to see you there!

Leave a comment