Homesick Hank are described on Discogs as a “Danish Americana Band” and they certainly have it down pat, because they do sound more American than Danish, though on their website you’ll find the descriptor “Nordicana” being used to describe their sound. The A-side features restaurateur-turned-Americana artist, Mary Gauthier, who began writing songs in her mid-thirties. I’m not familiar with her name or music at all. She has a nice low voice, but I find her enunciation quite unclear on parts of “Believe” such that I can’t make out her words in places.
The B-side, “Leave It Behind,” featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy was originally released on the Homesick Hank album Leave It Behind in 2006. But one only needs look on Spotify to see that this Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy collaboration is by far Homesick Hank’s most popular song. Here it’s being used as mere B-side filler then for what is really a Homesick Hank single called “Believe” being released to promote the album Beautiful Life that came out in November 2015. This single seems to have been knocked out in a rather limited edition of 30 copies in plain white hand-painted sleeves. Here we’ve got two pretty country pop songs, though there’s something generic and too perfectly executed about them, as though these Danes have learnt how to create perfectly pigeonholed Americana pop on a university course. I won’t be rushing out to the buy the album.
Believe (featuring Mary Gauthier)… is a break up song, a duet in the manner of any number of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy male/female duets, or Tindersticks for that matter, where the acrimonious couple sing bitter lines to each other. ‘He’ as played by Homesick Hank lead singer Kudre Haan, gets the first word in, accusing ‘her’ of missing out on the better moments of life because she’s always “running to ease another fire” or missing “silence between the beats” within her heart. She has her own complaints of course, though it’s not clear if these are meant to be read as all from the same narrator or a separate one. The lyrics are somewhat disjointed and unassigned so that it’s hard to say what’s happened with any kind of precision, but it seems that Haan’s narrator feels that his partner lacked belief in the possibility of their relationship. Thus the word “believe” becomes a refrain in the chorus, which leads to him lamenting, “I’m all you ever wanted / But the thing is / You don’t believe.” There’s a slight sentimental mawkishness to the melody though. It opens on acoustic guitar with vocals recorded close and loud. It all sounds too rooted in the 90s for my tastes. It’s main redeeming feature is the violin which provides a lovely texture, and Gauthier’s voice provides a nice counterpoint to Haan’s, but when the chorus strikes and the two join forces, and the tune rises, it’s as though the last 20 years never happened and we’re stuck in 1996 when pop Americana was still a relatively novel concept. Nevertheless, plenty of people will find plenty to like about this slow, mildly clichéd, emotionally moving song.
Leave It Behind… is on a perfect par with the A-side, bittersweet pop with violin, CG CG bass line, and those voices—Haan and Oldham—the former comes close to sounding like Oldham when Oldham sings in sweet Americana mode himself, but Oldham has a far wider range of voices. This song might refer to the disappointment of the singing persona of the A-side, because the phrase “Leave It Behind” refers to leaving your baggage behind, a sentiment not dissimilar to that expressed on several Oldham songs such as “Lay It Down,” the B-side to a joint Bonnie/Trembling Bells 7” from 2014. This advice comes from “an old wise woman” who appears to be none other than fate itself, for this character, who has “been looking in her crystal ball all of her life,” “knows just how you die,” she “controls the tide” and keeps “track of the flak and the gap in your life.” Not only that but she tries to keep your conscience clear for you and to help you to stop whipping yourself. The old wise woman’s advice? No point in thinking back to “the lonely fears and losses of the past.” Yes, so leave it behind, and repeat, leave it behind, again, several times over, leave it behind, leave it behind. Haan sings the first half of the song, Oldham the second, and they converge for the overly repetitive chorus. I like the switch from Haan’s voice to Oldham’s mid-song, as though Oldham is only there to provide confirmation to Haan’s story. But Oldham’s voice has so much more depth, range, and mood to it, even when he’s singing as lightly as he does here. The melody is rather repetitive, but the mix of voices cooing “Leave it behind” at song end while that violin swirls circles around them is a pretty way to fade out.
So generally, my feeling is that we heard plenty of this kind of stuff in the 90s. Homesick Hank could do with a little more adventurousness in their sound, which is overly clean and feels too indebted to some of Oldham’s least interesting material. This was the last Bonnie-related release for 2015. The new year would bring two full albums of old and new material in quick succession.