My first experience with Alabama's Pine Hill Haints is just as bizarre and random as their music. I was simply walking by Berbati's Pan one night, heard the band from outside the venue, and inside I went. Ever since then, it's been a steady love affair with these Southern country/punks, as I never miss a show or a chance to rant, and write, about how a life without the Haints is a life not worth living.
To understand a band like the Pine Hill Haints is to understand the South—not just as a location, but also as a way of life. Much like the way the Drive-By Truckers romanticize and criticize the legacy that lies below the Mason-Dixon Line, the Haints offer a glimpse of the South seldom seen. Their sound lies deep in both the flooded Louisiana soil and the torched remains of Sherman's March, as their songs cover centuries of working-class poverty and heartbreak from the region they call home. Their geographic make-up is the backbone of the band's swampy lo-fi sound. Often referred to as "Alabama Ghost Music," the Haints are as raw as they come, and if they were any more stripped down, they'd be on blocks in someone's yard.
The bucket-bass playing and muffled hoots and hollers on the band's latest full-length, 2004's Those Who Wonder (self-released on the band's Arkam label) show the Haints as a collective of musicians at their peak. Although the album was recorded in just one day in the studio—that explains the rough sound—it also showcases a band with a firm cohesive nature, most likely due to always being on tour together.
Keeping with their raw sound, the Haints' ramshackle live show is a loosely assembled collection of battered instruments, from mandolin to washboard, and with the exception of lead singer Jamie Barrier's guitar, there isn't an electric instrument in the bunch. This allows the band to experience a level of portability few bands have, as they perform from porch to stage with little change in their setup. While their hearts may lie with country music, their spirit is true punk rock, as they are a band that would be more at home playing your basement than the Grand Ole Opry. Onstage, surrounded by this sea of vintage (and homemade) equipment, the Haints resemble a jug band with a Gilman Street makeover.
For the love of god, don't miss their show, because if they hop that freight out of town (which is probably very likely), they might not be back anytime soon.
The Pine Hill Haints perform at Acme on Thurs June 22, with Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck, and The Can Kickers.