Ever wonder why some folks willingly embrace the hard life, take to the road, and depend on the kindness of strangers? Hudson Valley-based acoustic fivesome the Powder Kegs could learn ya with “Hard Travelin’,” the first cut off their rip-snortin’ debut, The Seedhouse. The track is a Woody Guthrie chestnut that details rough times—backbreaking, menial labor; slogging through six feet of mud; aching for a woman—but this version careens from pillar to post like a celebratory spiritual. On several cuts from this live-in-a-room collection, the subject matter is dire; for example, the sole original, “Take Another Shot,” or the folk stalwart “Policeman.” Yet the Powder Kegs are ace players on fiddle, guitars, doghouse bass, banjo, and mandolin, and still manage to deliver all of their chosen tunes with a subtext of contagious joy.
First-prize winners on “A Prairie Home Companion’s” People in Their Twenties Talent Show and increasingly popular on the festival circuit, The Powder Kegs still busk on street corners and in public parks. The dust and dirt of the byways is audible on The Seedhouse. This is lovingly rendered music designed to be heard across Appalachian hills and in juke joints sans amps, with vibrato-free and ofte n ragged-but-right vocals recalling Leadbelly and Hank Williams (his “Lonesome Whistle” is covered here), and, when they join their voices, The Band.
The one song the Kegs choose to slow down is the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” and dang it if these upstarts don’t make the tune all the better by dragging it through the streets.