Michael Hurtt and The Haunted Hearts

A favorite of everyone from Lazy Lester to the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, the Haunted Hearts convened in 2003 with the sole purpose of single-handedly resurrecting New Orleans' once rich, now nearly invisible hillbilly music heritage. Armed with a box of 45s, an acoustic guitar and the inspiration of everyone from Lonesome Rhodes to the Lonesome Drifter and Brother Dave Gardner to Uncle Earl K. Long, Michael Hurtt—already known for his work with New Orleans garage pioneers the Royal Pendletons—knew something had to be done the moment he heard the original western swing version of "Mardi Gras Mambo" by Jody Leavins and His Boys. Having already penned backwoods numbers like "Mean Mean Moon" and "I'm On My Last Go 'Round" during the aftermath of a barnstorming European tour as bassist for Tav Falco's Panther Burns, Hurtt began searching for fellow musicians who shared his particular vision of Dixiana: that world where Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show meets the Cajun blues of Link Davis and the country soul of Margaret Lewis…with a dose of Jimmy Donley thrown in for good measure.

First to step up to the plate was J.D. Mark, who was already gaining notoriety as guitarist for Mississippi soul monarchs Wiley and the Checkmates (and the latest addition to the ever-evolving Early Times). After the pair cut a couple of demos in Hurtt's living room, steel guitarist Mitch "Wichita Falls" Palmer and upright bass master John "Bacon Grease" Trahey magically appeared to complete the lineup. Drums were dispensed with altogether, producing a rural rockin' string band sound that shifts gears effortlessly from Deep South rockers to West Bank honky-tonkers to Bayou Lafourche ballads. Whether tearing through Jay Chevalier's "Castro Rock," Don Michel's "Hey Little Crawfish" or their own swamp-soaked "Lonely Mardi Gras," the Haunted Hearts' regional approach sidesteps the all-too-common curse of New Orleans provincialism, proudly saluting the great states of Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, California, and those Midwestern hillbilly strongholds, Indiana and Michigan. Their debut album, Come Back To Louisiana—engineered by Bo-Keys bassist Scott Bomar—is promised before 2006's Ponderosa Stomp, where they'll back Chevalier, the author of its title track.

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