Heavy Hinges: Mean Old City

Jul 15, 2014

Heavy Hinges has been described as "a sublime ruckus… a beautiful collision of rock, soul, gospel, and western."  In truth, what Heavy Hinges is is a well-balanced assemblage of rock, pop, country and traditional music with roots that run quite deep into the music of gospel choirs, chain gangs and saloons.  They have a reputation around town of putting on very powerful live performances and have established themselves as one of Cincinnati's must-see bands.

The group has just emerged from the studio with their debut album Mean Old City.  Recorded by Matt Hueneman at Newport's Audiogrotto and mastered by Ashley Shepherd*, Mean Old City is the band's attempt to bottle some of that on-stage lightning.

Co-lead singer and guitarist Dylan Speeg and bass player Andrew Lauderman used to play together in the high-energy Buckra. After the split-up of Buckra, Speeg met up with vocalist/ukelele player Maya Banatwala when the two worked together at Arlin's Bar & Restaurant in Clifton. From there is was a mostly simple matter of incorporating guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Wiliamson to round out the roster and start making some cool music together.

Heavy personal issues at the very beginning of the band's life started things off in a dark direction, but together the five have found a way to incorporate those emotional experiences into truly heart-felt, gutsy, blues rock with just a touch of jazz, and funky R&B for flavor. 

On stage, Speeg towers over Banatwala; but when they vocalize together there is an obvious chemistry between them like that of "Jimbo" Mathus and Katharine Whalen [Squirrel Nut Zippers]. In the same vein, though she may be diminutive in stature, Banatwala has a voice as big as the sky itself. An American Lilly Allen, Banatwala is able belt out blues and soul just as easily as she can captivate you and make you swoon with her heartwarming charm.

Mean Old City is an album full of barroom philosophy with songs like "Booze May Be Your Lover (But Not Your Friend)" balanced with razor-sharp humor like "My Hated For You."

One thing I adore about this album is that they took the very gutsy move to include a cover of Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers." There are two other covers of more traditional southern folk tunes on the album, but Heavy Hinges manages to take Waits' melancholy, whisky-soaked original and camouflage it as a downright danceable, high-energy pop song.

For my 'favorite' track of this week, I'm going to have to go with "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down." The song positively radiates with self-reliance and inner-strength. With its biblical allusions and powerful calls to do it for yourself, this is a song that could easily be co-oped as an anthem for some social cause somewhere.

Everything about Mean Old City and Heavy Hinges -- from the rubber-stamped album cover and the stop-motion music videos to their hand-drawn concert posters -- shows that this is a true grassroots effort. The band is engaged with their audience on a personal level, they are taking this seriously and they have a passion to play and to share their music with the people.

At the end of the day, Mean Old City will stand as a lovely artifact by which to remember the powerful, gritty, soulful music of Heavy Hinges. But it pales in comparison to the vibrant energy of their live show.

If you want the real deal, go out and experience this sublime ruckus for yourself.

*The track "Wait Around" was recorded and mixed by Jeremy Watson at Truetone Recordings in Middletown.