16 Horsepower - Hoarse [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

16 Horsepower

Hoarse [reissue] (2006)

Alternative Tentacles

Live albums are usually a very hit and miss venture. Especially for bands whose talent is created by studio magic, it becomes all too evident when their live albums come out completely and totally flat. Other bands, representing the complete opposite camp, come off pretty flat on record, but stellar in a live setting. Having never heard 16 Horsepower before their live album, Hoarse, I cannot give you a studio reference point, but I can without hesitation tell you, that this is a band that translates quite well into a live setting.

A veritable melting pot of styles, including folk, blues, and rock‘n'roll, 16 Horsepower motor through 11 live interpretations with undeniable spirit and vigor. There's just such a rousing feeling gotten from these songs, upbeat and energetic to the fullest. The band's vocalist has an extremely bluesy baritone that cascades up and down with the rhythm of the songs he's singing over. Jagged and forceful, the words seem to take on an added impact just on the basis of how he delivers them. Full of staggering conviction, each song is easily identified not only by the singer's different vocal patterns, but by the variety shown by the band that's backing him.

A lot of blues, a lot of rock‘n'roll, and a just a tinge of folk thrown into the mix makes for a listener that really has to stay on his toes. Even live, everything sounds tight, crisp, and loud. The heavy distortion in the more rock-oriented tracks jumps right out at you, while the more sublime blues style evokes a more relaxing feel. The foot-tapping folk/country twang of "Iron Lung" whips up a frenzy of activity from the band, including a little bit of banjo work, while the followup, "Horse Head" uses some extremely well-placed strings to make for a far more emotional atmosphere. Different still, is a more traditional rock‘n'roll song like "Brimstone Rock." Even then though, there's added elements to give the songs' quieter sections an old western feel. This is a band never content to sticking to one song and style, and no matter their direction, everything gets pulled together in an almost masterful manner.

Not ones to let their wide range of sounds and influences come into any sort of question, the band also includes three covers, giving each of them a fair bit of attention and interpretation, so as to make the song their own. This includes a much more soulful rendition of John Fogerty's "Bad Moon Rising," a bit heavier a version of Joy Division's "Day of the Lords," and the Gun Club's "Fire Spirit," which doesn't sound as different from the original as the two aforementioned tracks. The first two, however, are a testament to how unique and how talented this band really is.

The vocalist is the star of the show, with a unique and earnest sound that can change on a moment's notice, but there's sure as hell no slouches accompanying him on the record. This is about as "hit" as a live album can possibly be, fluid and well done across the board.