REVIEW: Arthur Hancock returns with a jubilant twang on “Alive at Hillbilly Central”

By Matt Wickstrom

Artwork by Jimbo Valentine | Amalgam Unlimited

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Former Wook Arthur Hancock – now of himself – has returned with a jubilant twang of Appalachicana on his solo debut Alive at Hillbilly Central. The project features familiar tunes with a not so familiar twist along with songs co-written with former bandmates and a cut about the most cherished holler paradise in Appalachia.

While the compilation marks the beginning of a new venture for Hancock its far from a solo effort as it features an all-star cast consisting of acoustic guitarist Joe Andrews (Old Crow Medicine Show), fiddler Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons, Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), bassist JT Cure (Chris Stapleton), drummer and vocalist Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson), Grammy award-winning banjoist and founder of Compass Records Alison Brown, electric guitarist and former Wooks bandmate Jesse Wells (Tyler Childers & The Food Stamps) and vocalist Robert Greer (Town Mountain) who together pool their talents to manifest a country and bluegrass medley on the project.

The EP kicks off with a cover of Larry Rice’s “Take Me Back To The Country” featuring a revamped psych-twang flare with an intoxicating groove at the intersection of country, bluegrass and rock similar to Goose Creek Symphony, a far cry from the song’s high-strung grassy roots. The song opens in an instrumental medley spearheaded by Holmes’ fiery fiddle before Hancock interjects with longing to return to the country – and with it simpler times – prior to Miller and Greer – the later being one of the quintessential and preeminent voices in country music today – joining in harmony.

The project then slows down with re-worked versions of two familiar songs from Hancock’s days with the Wooks in “Surface” from the band’s 2018 effort Glory Bound and “Out of Mine” from their 2016 debut Little Circles. The first, “Surface,” was also co-written by short-lived Wooks bandmate, radio host and accomplished banjoist Aaron Bibelhauser.

Up next is “Wolfpen Branch,” the first newly-penned song from Hancock on the EP that serves as an affectionate nod to the Roberts’ family farm tucked in the Daniel Boone Forest of Eastern Kentucky that serves as the host site for Kickin’ it on the Creek, one of the most magical and out-of-this-world musical experiences anyone could conjure up. The song takes on many of the same themes as “Take Me Back To The Country” in that it references a longing to escape mainstream civilization and the stresses of everyday life, but in the case of “Wolfpen Branch” the destination – a “little city like a wooked out ranch” – is much more specific and palpable to Kentuckians, particularly those who’ve scored a ticket in the past for the one-of-a-king festival.

Appropriately, Hancock performed the song on Sept. 20 during the recent iteration of the festival with Town Mountain backing him up. Prior to the festival Hancock also released a video for the song mashing together clips from past years at Kickin’ it on the Creek.

Rounding out the EP is another feisty medley in “Kenton’s Outdoor Sitting Area,” a song referencing and giving props to the large deck that Kenton Roberts – son of Kickin’ it on the Creek founder and host Byron Roberts (along with his family) –has built off the side of his Eastern Kentucky home. At over 14 ft. tall it’s safe to say that “Kenton’s got a really big deck.”

Alive at Hillbilly Central released on Sept. 20 via Hickman Holler Records. Stream the album below on Spotify and follow Hancock on Facebook for updates.


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