High on the Hog

N.H.B. (Nice Ham Bites) (Independent)
New Litter (Independent)
Hog Operation

By Jean Metcalfe

Hog Operation? Fans of New Horizon will recognize the constant in this incarnation of Louisville's premier bluegrass band as Steve Cooley (banjo, et al.), Larry Raley (lead vocals, bass), and Mike Schroeder (mandolin) a.k.a. Chubby Spud (fiddle). And these guys - with most any guitar player they bring along - are one talented foursome.

Cooley, Schroeder and Raley handled the instruments and vocals on Nice Ham Bites, with Kent Houchin adding dobro and bass on one cut and background vocals throughout. Dennis White provided rhythm guitar on cuts 7, 8, 9 and 10 - the "Nashvegas session."

Every cut on N.H.B. is choice-to-prime, most notably "Where Did I Go Wrong," and the string of "Rock County Wilsons,""Movin' On," and the country classic "(Now and Then, There's) A Fool Such as I." "Movin' On" is rock-solid, with a favorite instrumental break. Give it up for Final Mixmeister Cooley.

New Litter features eleven originals by Schroeder, Cooley and Raley and introduces Tony Myers on guitar. (Myers brings a bagful of songs to Hog Operation's live performances, including a fine rendition of "The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home.") "Jeffieco" Guernsey guests on fiddle.

"Rollin' Down" gets New Litter off to an impressive start, and a couple of nice instrumentals are in the lineup. Raley's mournful reading of "Lonesome," underscored by repetition of the title, makes it the pick of the litter. "The Olde Barn Dance," while not quite the equal of "Uncle Pen," is long on nostalgia - a valuable ingredient in the bluegrass genre. If there is a runt in the New Litter, it would probably be "Love and You," but then runts can be very lovable.

The home-grown inserts for both N.H.B. and New Litter are sparse but whimsical and employ a sampler of type fonts. New Litter gestated and was dropped in the studios of Messrs. Cooley and Schroeder, who clone additional units as needed.

To be perfectly honest - and these guys are too professional to want less - NHB is the better of the two albums. With a bit of aging, however, several of the New Litter should produce some Nice Ham Bites.

Nice Ham Bites and New Litter are available at Hog Operation's gigs. Look 'em up and buy both albums.