'The Working Life' (2014)
'Holy Ghost Town' (2013)
Both albums released on KZ Records
Hank Woji first caught my attention with his album 'There Was A Time', back in 2010. I liked the first song ("Warm East Texas Rain") right away, he covered Woody Guthrie's "Jesus Christ" and the traditional "Deep Ellum Blues" and... I absolutely loved the cover art - with the old 'Skipper' doll! Well, that's the way my mind works. So, we kept in touch and when 'Holy Ghost Town' came out I gave airplay to ALL eight songs featured. Believe me, I very rarely do that. That's why I decided, when concept album 'The Working Life' arrived in my mail box, to pay some attention to both these CDs here. Maybe I can convince you, to purchase them together, saves postage too!
Hank Woji introduces himself:
Hi, my name is Hank Woji and I’m a singer/songwriter and recording artist living in Terlingua, TX. I have just finished recording my fifth, and latest, album, 'The Working Life'. It is a collection of songs about Workers, The Unions and the growing Income Inequality in our country today. My hope is that it will inspire people to speak up and out, and get involved in the labor movement, either by joining a union themselves or, by supporting their friends, neighbors and family members who are union members. The album features thirteen songs - six originals, plus three co-writes and four great covers.
As a proud union member -AFM Local 1000- I wrote and chose songs which I feel best reflect the lives and struggles of the middle class and working poor and help bring attention to the union movement in both a real time and historical context. The album will be released on May 1st, 2014 - International Workers Day! I’ve been performing these songs around the country for the last few years and the response has been great and, considering the current social and political climate in the country right now, the timing of this album is perfect! Making a record sometimes can be a huge undertaking that involves many people and a lot of time, but I do it because I love to make music & share that music with the world - especially music with a message which, I feel strongly, can affect people’s lives! Thank you for being a part of this...
Critics have described Texas singer-songwriter Hank Woji’s music as being 'in the best tradition of the Texas troubadours like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Butch Hancock' and 'a rich combination of elements of folk, blues, R&B and country' and that 'his troubadour style also comes very close to the style of Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger, or as we heard on ‘Nebraska’ from Bruce Springsteen'.
For over fifteen years, as a bassist sideman, and later as a bandleader, Hank was a driving force in some of the Jersey Shore's most dynamic and innovative bands, playing clubs and concert halls and touring the East Coast and Canada, sharing the stage, or performing, with such diverse artists as: The Drifters, Merl Saunders, Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers, The Smithereens, Toots & the Maytals, The Radiators, Jon Bon Jovi, Room Full Of Blues, Clarence Clemmons, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Johnson, Hot Tuna, The Nighthawks, John Hammond Jr. and Johnny Winter.
In the late 80s he began studying African and Brasilian drumming and percussion and by 1995 was also performing regularly, as a drummer/percussionist, with Mzume' Carnaval, a Jersey based batucada group, at festivals, colleges, clubs and concert halls throughout the NYC / NJ metro area.
In March of 2001 Hank moved from New York City to Houston, TX and began a new phase of his music career - Singer/Songwriter. His compositions have garnered him honors in numerous national and international songwriting competitions including: The South Florida Folk Festival, The Kerrville Folk Festival, The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, The SongDoor International Songwriting Contest, The Suwannee SpringFest, The Dallas Songwriters Association and the Austin Songwriters Group.
His first CD as a songwriter, released in 2005, 'Medallion', combined elements of Folk, Blues, R&B and Rock&Roll with Brasilian, Cuban, African and Indian rhythms. For his outstanding production work on 'Medallion', he was nominated for the 2006 Producer of the Year award by the Academy of Texas Music. In January 2006 he released his first CD Single, 'Patriot Games', a hard hitting socio-political commentary, which received critical acclaim, and extensive radio airplay, from Portland, OR to Long Island, NY.
Hank's 2008 offering, 'American Dreams', is a dark portrait painted in broad strokes on a canvas of pure Americana, with songs alternating between Bluegrass, Gospel, Country, Folk and good ol' Rock&Roll. For both his songwriting work and his performance on 'American Dreams' Hank was nominated for the 2009 Singer/Songwriter of the Year Award by the Academy of Texas Music.
Hank got back to basics on his CD 'There Was A Time' in 2010. With its tight, sparse arrangements, and brevity in both song and lyric, this solo effort stands in sharp contrast with his earlier works. Drawing on traditional Folk, Blues and Classic Country themes, both musically and lyrically, and with songs centered primarily around guitar, vocals and harmonica, 'There Was A Time' has been called Hank's most "Texas" record to date!
Most recently, as a performing Singer/Songwriter, he has shared the stage with Shake Russell, Dana Cooper, Darden Smith, Jonathan Byrd, Sara Hickman, Ken Gaines, Amy Speace, Saylor White, Annie Gallup, Jimmy LaFave, Colin Brooks, Denim, Freddy 'Steady' Krc, Bob Livingston, Gary P. Nunn, Buddy Taylor, Connie Mims, Danny Everitt, Jesse Dayton, David Massengill, Ray Bonneville, Michael Martin Murphey and Pete Seeger.
Hank is a long time Staff Volunteer at the Kerrville Folk Festival and at KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston, TX and performs regularly at coffeehouses, clubs and house concerts throughout the US.
Hank with Bruce
Hank with Pete Seeger
'The Working Life':
1. "Punchin' That Clock": Fine rhythm on the congas. Hank holds back on the vocals in a jazzy tune. Daily life for most of us: "But wages keep a fallin' back, ain't no relief in sight / The rich keep gettin' richer, but I just can't stay in the black."
HW: Co-written with Emmy Award Winning Producer Don Buford and Colin Brooks, formerly of The Band Of Heathens.
2. "The Pigs At The Trough": Uptempo song with a similar enthusiasm as the acoustic Springsteen. Well, it's quite clear who the pigs are! "We'll be paying off their debts till the end of our days / And without a doubt they're leaving us one hell of a mess." Ending on harmonica...
3. "When The Waves Come Crashin' Over The Wall": While this track starts on harmonica, reminiscent of 'Nebraska', indeed - and then Roger starts drumming. Probably the strongest song on this record and absolutely my favorite! "Evacuation orders, too late for runnin’ now / Windows tightly boarded, we’ll make it through this somehow / Gov’nor screams bloody murder, callin’ out the national guard". Hank doesn't mention the name of any storms, but the images are clear and he uses them also as a metaphor. Excellent!
4. "Come Join A Union!": Basically an advertisement for the unions, only accompanied by Hank's banjo.
5. "Livin' On The Edge": A poignant realistic song, where the characters (a single mother and a homeless veteran, among others) balance on the edge of the so-called 'American Dream'. The explanations in between are not really necessary, we do get the picture!
HW: A re-make of this song, which I co-wrote with my good friend Dan L. Ford, now of Nashville.
6. "Chasin' My Headlights Again": Beautiful ballad, a relaxed road song, especially impressive because of the lovely bowed bass parts. Very nice amidst all the heavy subjects. "Good gig in Memphis, tip jar was singin’ / It felt just like dancin’ on the head of a pin / The bartender told me / 'That song really touched me' / And I’m chasin’ my headlights again".
7. "Talkin' Bout A Revolution": Written by Tracy Chapman. I always loved that song! Hank gets away gloriously with his own catchy version, featuring Marco's congas.
8. "My Last Will": "Moss does not cling to rolling stone". By now I'm a big fan of double bass player Thomas Helton!
HW: The third co-write is a famous poem by Joe Hill, which I put to music.
9. "I Ought To Know": A folk song with a fuller sound, including the drums by Roger Wolford. Sung from the heart. I was introduced to Jack Hardy's music only a couple of years ago, but I definitely want to hear more than one album and a few scattered songs.
HW: Written by the late great Jack Hardy.
10. "Yuletide Blues": The touching story of a homeless man, roaming the streets on Christmas, while he shares his thoughts with us. "There’s turkey stew at five, down on the mission line / Told Reverend John I’d lend a hand."
11. "There Was A Crooked Man": Remarkable track, with a chorus that rhymes like a children's song: "There was a crooked man / He walked a crooked mile / He danced a crooked dance / And smiled a crooked smile." And so on.
12. "Plegaria A Un Labrador": Victor Jara! One of my friends gave me a CD-R with one of his LPs, not the best duplication, but I was fascinated... The end of Victor's life was so gruesome, that even reading about it makes you sick. It's so good to see, that Hank covers one of his songs here - I wish more artists would do that. A great soulful version!
HW: Written by the immortal Chilean songwriter and martyr Victor Jara.
13. "Factory": Written by Bruce Springsteen, from his LP 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town'. One of my favorite Springsteen songs! Makes me immediately think of my own father. A rough life indeed. He and many of colleagues died of cancer, caused by the asbestos they had to work with.
A very well executed concept album in the tradition of protest singers from the past. The phrasing and emphasis are spot-on. Although only one or two musicians accompany Hank on most tracks, the sound is often surprisingly full, warm and always impeccable. Packaging of the CD looks nice, the black and white pictures are chosen with care and the lyrics can be found on-line, thanks to AirPlay Direct. Even if you're not that much into the subject of labor unions, the message is not 'in your face' anyway and there's lots more to enjoy and think about.
'Holy Ghost Town':
Following his Folk/World stylings on 'Medallion', the politically charged Americana of 'American Dreams' and the West Texas minimalism of 'There Was A Time', Hank Woji breaks new ground with this CD. The recording process began in 2011 in Hank's home state of New Jersey, with long time friend and drummer Roger Wolford (Denny Laine) and wrapping up back in Texas with stellar performances from Austin favorites Guy Forsyth, Karen Mal and Colin Brooks (Band of Heathens), Houstonians Thomas Helton & Jeff Duncan, and Terlingua's own Laird Considine, 'Holy Ghost Town' marks an exciting new direction for this veteran songwriter.
1. "Beneath The Golden Moon": Poetic words on a light catchy cadence, to start the disc spinning. "Some wish upon a star, some trace the comet's tail."
HW: Bouncy 'Trek' through life's lessons.
2. "Terlingua Blues": Written by Randy Moore, with a warning for explicit lyrics. Don't worry, that's only the word 'bullsh*t' and besides that, we have four letter word freedom of speech here in Europe! "And there's lots of little critters that'll sting ya."
HW: A local favorite. Laid back '110 degrees in the shade' blues.
3. "Solomon's Child": Great blues track. Slide dobro played by Colin Brooks! "Solomon told me, I’ll take you for a ride / Cross the Rio Grande now, over to the other side / Tryin' times we live in, streets runnin' wild / But the future’s in your hands, and so is the child." I especially like the somewhat mystic touch.
HW: Rockin' words of wisdom with some great slide!
4. "The Last Time I Saw Jesus": My favorite! Such an excellent song... "Last time I saw Jesus he was walkin’ in the rain / He crossed the tracks and headed South, just before the train / His steps were slow and easy, like he didn’t have a care / And wasn’t in no hurry to be goin’ anywhere." Combining the life story of a vagrant with history from the Bible, I know - it's done before, but this song is among the very best! The violin and the bowed bass blend, Karen Mal adds a subtle harmony vocal. Heavenly perfection!
HW: West Texas Ballad set in Alpine, TX.
5. "Deal": Written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in 1970. Colin Brooks adds some tasty dobro again. Cool results.
HW: Very new take on the Grateful Dead classic.
6. "The Streets Of Jericho": "Trust of ages has been broken, Blood of prophets has been shed / Gates of Eden closed behind us, To the desert night we fled". An atmospheric ballad, inspired by ancient history. The violin keeps singing in our ears...
HW: Mystical Quest through the deserts of time.
7. "Holy Ghost Town": I know, we like to start waltzing right away - but watch out: "And tarantulas cross dusty roads just for fun".
HW: A West Texas Waltz - Welcome to Terlingua!
8. "Hank's Ole Dusty Road Rag": An instrumental ode to namesake Hank Williams. Very interesting sound: Thomas Helton plays the bass line on tuba and then Guy Forsyth joins in... with his singing saw.
HW: Roll the credits, send in the clowns! Instrumental - No Lyrics, but there is Singing Saw!
Only one 'complaint': the album is just too short - we want more of these beautiful songs!
Art on a high level.
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - February 12th, 2015.