America, meet your roots 

The Magpies, known not long ago as Roger Hoover and the Whiskeyhounds, dig deep.


                                                                    The Magpies White Water Tavern

10 p.m. Fri., April 11, $5; 9 p.m. Sat., April 12. $7. With the Damn Bullets.

The sepia-toned, poverty-stricken paradise in the songs of most Americana artists today has little literary direction, other than to charm the listener with vignettes quaint and country. This music only reflects a cultural obsession — reactive to our crisp modern times — with all things rural and out-of-date and dirty, and with notable exception rarely goes beyond the merely descriptive. All the world is a rotten-floored front porch where simple passes for subtle, and true coarse human anxiety is scarcely explored or wrestled with.

The shelves are flooded with craftily costumed artists photographed in boots and lace, pondering something folksy on a lonely haystack with guitar and tambourine. The saddest thing about this market-driven approach to indie roots music is that it has roped in a lot of brilliantly talented musicians. It's certainly safe to say that most roots artists with record contracts are, themselves, impressively skilled on their instruments and backed by musicians of the highest caliber.

But the soul of American roots music, draped as it is in beautiful melody, has been the close relationship of that music to its words. Somewhere the imagery of music has lost touch with its roots. America's is a music built not only on lovestruck loneliness, but on social oppression, economic strife, crude sexual expression, common humanity and political dissent. These are the elements of American life — all still present today — that gave rise to the first blues, folk, country and rock. Corporate-driven artists shy from these themes, gilding a rich musical tradition in empty showmanship and forgettable verse.

Roger Hoover strode quietly onto the scene in Akron, Ohio, about five years ago, with two albums (“Golden Gloves” and “Panic Blues”) whose musical breadth alone should have immediately placed him and his band, the Whiskeyhounds, on touring gigs with the brightest Americana stars. It is likely the case that the Whiskeyhounds — they've since changed their name to Magpies — were lost in a crowd of beggars at the resurgent roots music banquet. What listeners could have heard in these albums was tremendous potential for lyrical complexity, which is the last distinguishing honor to be attained by artists in any crowded musical genre. Regardless, these were the Whiskeyhounds who chanced down to Arkansas and established a connection that would eventually lead to lasting musical relationships with such Arkansas artists as Hayes Carll, Cory Branan and Graham Wilkinson.

“I first met Conway after our drummer booked a house show there for the Whiskeyhounds,” says Hoover. Through a serendipitous punk-rock connection with Matt White (then a Conway kid spending his spare time building a music scene in the driest of college towns, now the booker/manager of Little Rock music institution White Water Tavern) the Whiskeyhounds made it down to Conway from Akron, Ohio.

“We pulled in the drive in a rusted-out Ford van with trailer in tow,” Hoover remembers. “We were instantly greeted with brotherly hugs and heartfelt conversations by people we'd never met. From that moment on I have felt accepted. I felt accepted as a writer, as a friend, and a citizen of Conway.”

Since then, Hoover has developed a fan base in Central Arkansas that, he says, easily trumps any reception in his home state. Arkansas is clearly an artistic inspiration for the band: “Little Rock and Conway are very similar to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio,” he says. “Since I'm from Ohio I have a much more romantic view of Arkansas than maybe you have. I see a land rich in folklore and farming soil that sprouted small American cities with budding intellectual centers. Not far from the metropolis of Little Rock you'll find the Buffalo River and the Ozarks — two places that are very mystic in my eyes. There seems to exist a constant struggle between the old and the new.”




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