Few albums greet listeners with a song featuring the musical saw. Then again, few bands sound like the Pine Hill Haints.
This Alabama quintet has perfected a package of punk-rock energy hidden behind hillbilly instrumentation and old-timey storytelling. To Win or to Lose features the aforementioned saw, accordion, washboard and buckets, and spins dark yarns about a host of depressingly down-on-their-luck types—and yet it's mostly a buoyant, barn-raisin' effort.
Disparate examples abound: Double-beat barroom brawl tracks like "Never Cry" come up alongside curveballs like "Bordello Blackwidow," a calypso ditty that sounds like a redneck version of "Sweet and Dandy" by Toots and the Maytals, and the loitering reggae beat of "Scar." Then there's the 90-second cover of "Je Passe Devant Ta Porte," complete with an earnest attempt at French lyrics and a creaky accordion.
Frontman Jamie Barrier deserves the bulk of the praise for making this mix stick together from track to track. His garbled delivery conveys a certain yearning that never seems forced or hackneyed. And his extended "yeehaw" on a cover of Woody Guthrie's "The Ranger's Command" sounds just as sincere as his Ramones-like "whoa-oh-ohs" on "Charley Horse." Why not, right? Everything seems to be fair game for the Haints.
The Pine Hill Haints play Total Fest Sat., Aug. 22, at 10 PM at the Badlander