In a certain sense, the third album by the trio that refers to themselves as 3hattrio, is as difficult to discern as the reason why they wear such odd masks to conceal their faces. For the record, the band consists of Hall Cannon on guitar, banjo and vocals, Eli Wrankle, who plays violin and Greg Istock, charged with double bass, foot percussion and additional vocals. As for the music itself, suffice it to say it's surreal, a swirling blend of elusive impressions that appear atmospheric and as if they've been derived from Middle Eastern origins.
Then again, the three claim to have been inspired by the mesas and desert where they reside, a stone's throw from majestic Zion National Park. However the imagery they conjure up here is more of an other worldly nature, a combination that's decidedly exotic and nothing that would otherwise be expected of the instrumental output they tally here.
The initial offerings - "Dust Devil," "Pilgrim," "In Our Hands" et. al. - provide the impression that they're simply an unlikely combination of bluegrass and gospel, but as things progress, the music become less open to interpretation. Many of the remaining songs are either outrightly ominous or indicative of some deeper spiritual statement. Indeed, the title track's looming narrative makes it clear that there are deeper meanings that need to be fully absorbed, and the atmosphere and ambiance are simply meant to underscore the solemnity and sobriety. The music 3hattrio conveys is, despite the often aloof tones and textures, meant to be taken seriously, and there's not a single moment on "Lord of the Desert" where that intent isn't clear.
Ultimately then, there's nothing here to be dismissed or given a cursory listen. A concerted hearing is clearly called for. A striking set of songs, "Lord of the Desert" demands a certain decorum.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. Visit him at his Americana music web site Stories Beyond the Music.