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Twangy music, Philly-style

Americana music is rarely as jumping and reviving, skittery and sweaty, as that put out by our aptly named, home-grown Hoots & Hellmouth.

Americana music is rarely as jumping and reviving, skittery and sweaty, as that put out by our aptly named, home-grown Hoots & Hellmouth.

Theirs is a real "kitchen sink" approach to twangy music making, at times earthy as bluegrass, folked up with tradition or gospel pure, but also speaking to today with its aura of righteously rocking, poke-your-eyes-out indignation.

No surprise, I also got an earful recently from the group's fast talking yet thoughtful co-leader Sean Hoots.

The chat was incited by their shows Sunday at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, then the following Friday and Saturday at Fishtown's Johnny Brenda's.

Q: Coming from Philadelphia, do people challenge your credentials for making country-flavored music?

A: We get called on that all the time: "Country music, they don't have country music in Pennsylvania!" But if you're not in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, you're in the country. I've actually got roots in the Carolinas - both of my parents and my grandparents are from down there. And I spent 15 years growing up in Chester County. There's a lot of rolling hills and farm land out there.

In addition to connecting with a folky style of music, we're also resonating with the people, the issues, the whole "think global but buy local" movement.

It's a desire to maybe look at things through a simpler perspective and a way to distill some of the essence away from the hype and glitz of today's marketing culture when you can't go for 15 seconds without getting something crammed down your throat.

Q: You really aim to make connections to the audience through the music, too, don't you? Both in emotion and sound, yours is very embracing stuff.

A: Music is one of those primitive, primordial gifts that goes beyond language. It's one of those ways you can relax all of your definitions and standards and meet each other in a deeper, simpler place. It's really powerful when you connect with an audience, are having a conversation. Between songs, we have a dialogue. Then, if you're lucky, they're singing along with you during the songs. The whole thing becomes a group activity that's synergistic, amazing.

Q: On paper, you're an acoustic trio - two guitars and mandolin. Yet your album and your shows always seem to have a lot of other players involved. What's with that?

A: (Laughing) We're definitely a flexible lineup. Andrew ["Hellmouth" Gray], Rob [Berliner] and myself are the core. Then we always have a bass player - one of three or four people who gets cycled in the band. We're really busy - touring a lot, doing about 200 shows a year - and good bass players are few and far between. So we have to share them with others. Then there are other people who pop up now and then, like keyboardist Devon Greenwood, or the amazing Sisters Three, who're coming out with their own album soon that you've just gotta hear.

Q: Your self-titled album came out last year on the Drexel University-sponsored Mad Dragon label. Have you been pleased with the way the faculty and students in the music industry department have "worked" it, and is there anther one coming?

A: We've found the experience very positive. They've shown a real commitment to the band. With Drexel behind it, they have a budget to allocate, they have their own promotion guy who works with us, Howard Wuelfing, who's done a hell of a job, gotten us all kinds of ink. We work our asses off and they return the favor. The first album's just crossed 3,000 sales, and yes, we're making another for them at the end of the year. We'll be getting away from some of the more cliched aspects of the music we were drawing inspiration from. We're still trying to respect tradition while allowing our creative muses to run wild. I've gotten more into finger picking - more ragtime and blues finger picking styles - but we'll be taking that and juxtaposing other stuff, maybe a hip-hop rhythm feel. We don't have a drummer but we'll be using a stomp board and maybe even a little beatboxing.

Q: Are you Phillies fans and how do you feel about playing on Sunday night, opposite the game?

A: We were working in Nashville when they won the National League championship, and got to watch the ninth inning from the stage, 'cause there were screens in the back of the bar that we could see from up there. We're not your diehard, know-all-the-stats kind of fans. But we're into the game. I played Little League as a kid. And we definitely have been connecting with people though the team when we're on the road: "Yeah, go Phillies!" So we'll have to figure out some way to keep on top of the game on Sunday. *

Hoots & Hellmouth headline the Flower Power Music Festival (a benefit for the Phoenixville Area Business Association's Flower Fund) with support from Old School Freight Train, Tin Bird Choir and Matt Brown, Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 8 p.m. Sunday, $15, $18, $25, 610-917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com. They share a bill with O'Death at Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 9 p.m. $14, 215-739-9684, www.

johnnybrendas. com.

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