Click to hear: “In My World“
Just months after Brad Strause’s revelatory debut album, Come on Over, comes the first recording by another heretofore undiscovered folk-blues phenom, Brad “Squintwood” Hooper.
Like Strause, Hooper’s been playing for many years, but only recently entered a recording studio. It seems he’s been holed up in Oxford County for the better part of the past few decades, singing to skiers at Sunday River and hustling for beer money in the local watering holes. Since relocating to the Portland area a few months back, Hooper’s been turning heads at open mics and beginning to get his due from booking agents and local radio hosts.
As Midnight at the Hilltop Hotel proves, Hooper’s paid a lot of dues and deserves every scrap of attention that comes his way. This guy’s the real deal. No flash, no gimmicks, no solos, just solid guitar playing and soulful vocals applied to honest, original songs set within traditional folk and blues structures.
The 14 tracks here are full of booze, struggle and regret, with flashes of the comfort found in music and family life. Hooper’s no poet, but his plainspoken lyrics suit his well-worn voice and reinforce the impression, if for some reason you had any doubt, that he’s singing from the heart.
“I’d like to see you one time more / Just so I could tell you everything gonna be alright,” he sings to open “One More Time.” “But sometimes the bottle / Puts an end to all the dreams / And I wake up but I’m still here on the shore.”
“Stand here in a room full of peoples, lord / How could I feel alone,” he growls on “Mr. York’s Blues.” “I’ve carried this weight so long / It gone and gave me a heart of stone.”
Hooper breaks form a bit on the last track, “In My World,” a political song in which he declares that in his world, “government is guilty,” “justice can be purchased,” “Jesus was a hippie” and, somewhat curiously, “Mary was a liar” (I assume he doesn’t buy the “virgin birth” bit). It’s one of the album’s standout numbers.
Aside from some harmonica and harmony vocals (both by Hooper himself), there are no overdubs. Hooper basically busted these songs out live at Baked Beans Studio up in Harrison. It’s a reasonable approach for one’s first record, though additional instruments and vocals would be welcome.
According to the bio on his Web site (squintwood.com), Hooper’s already got another album — this one an electric outing with a full band — “in the can.” If, as Strause was able to do, Hooper can get a group together for local gigs, then man, look out!
— Chris Busby
Brad Hooper is the featured artist at the Free Street Acoustic Open Mic tonight at The Dogfish Bar & Grille, 128 Free St., Portland, at 7 p.m. (Hooper goes on around 8:30 p.m.). Free (18+). He’ll also be a featured artist at the Maine Songwriters’ Association showcase and open mic on Thurs., July 23, at North Star Music Café, 225 Congress St., Portland, at 7 p.m. Free (all ages). For more, visit squintwood.com.