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Hobo Nephews of Uncle Jim

American Shuffle – 2015 (Chaperone)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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The brother duo of Teague and Ian Alexy grew up in New Jersey, but began their musical collaboration after reconnecting as adults in Duluth, Minn. where they wound up in the same scene that has given us Trampled By Turtles and Charlie Parr. Rather than being an offshoot or copycat of either of those singular artists, Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank travels the America of endless musical possibilities first opened by John Hartford and John Stewart and exploded by artists such as Sam Bush.

The duo format, while expanded a bit on record, imposes limitations that expose any songwriting weaknesses. The Alexys don't seem to have any, however, as the tunes they offer up here draw from blues, folk, rock, country, and western sounds without becoming any of them completely.

"Over and Back Again" is a gentle, loping number that's part Michael Martin Murphey, part Dawes, with vocal harmonies that evoke classic Eagles tunes such as "Peaceful Easy Feeling," while "Old Number Four" is an Avett Brothers-like story song that's ripe for an audience sing- and clap-along. Throughout, producer Ryan Young of Trampled By Turtles captures both the acoustic intimacy of the brothers and the instrumental flourishes that expand and enhance their musical palette.

It's this populist folk song style that best suits the duo, as they hew to the itinerant implications of their chosen moniker while imbuing the melodies with Dylanesque rock 'n' roll fervor. Woody Guthrie would recognize some of himself in these tunes, but so would Phil and Don Everly or the members of The Band.