Back to where they began: Spanish for Hitchhiking releases new album with original member Dave Chalfant

  • Spanish for Hitchhiking, which just released its third album, has been rejoined by guitarist and producer Dave Chalfant, far right, who played with the group in its early years.  Photo by Dennis Crommett

  • Valley indie rockers Spanish for Hitchhiking have a new album out, “Wild Love,” that brings rich electric guitars to the songs by vocalist Dennis Commett, in forefront. CONTRIBUTED/Joanna Chattman

  • ”Wild Love” is the new album by Valley indie rockers Spanish For Hitchhiking, which first formed in 2001.  Photo by Joanna Chattman

  • “Wild Love,” the new album by indie rockers Spanish for Hitchhiking.

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2021 9:09:02 AM

About three years ago, the members of Valley indie rockers Spanish for Hitchhiking were having a beer in Easthampton and talking about their next project.

The trio — guitarist and vocalist Dennis Crommett, bassist Max Germer, and drummer Dave Hower — had put out two albums since first forming in 2001, but as Crommett recalls, “We hadn’t done much in awhile, and we just talked about ‘What do we want to do now?’”

The three began jamming and improvising in the basement of Crommett’s Williamsburg home, working on some basic arrangements for a new batch of songs Crommett had written, and they invited a few musical friends to join them from time to time. And at one point, one of those friends — guitarist, bassist and recording engineer Dave Chalfant — showed up for some sessions.

There was a bit of a difference, though, with Chalfant: He’d been part of the band’s original lineup before leaving for other commitments, and he’d also produced their first two records. And as the jam sessions continued, Crommett said, “Dave said he wanted to be part of this record, and he wanted to record it at his house. And we all said ‘Let’s do it.’”

“Dave and I have been friends for a long time now, so doing an album with him is kind of like pulling on an old favorite sweater,” he added.

That brings us to “Wild Love,” Spanish for Hitchhiking’s new record, their first since 2015 and probably the hardest rocking disc the band has made, full of richly textured electric guitars, authoritative drumming and hook-laden choruses built around strong guitar and bass lines.

With echoes of R.E.M., Wilco, and U2 in the mix, “Wild Love” also offers some quieter and slower moments on songs like “Waves” and “The Streets at Night” — the title song is also more melodic ballad than rocker — but the album’s overall dynamic is straight-ahead roots rock.

Crommett, who’s released a number of solo albums over the years, including some instrumental records, said his tunes for Spanish for Hitchhiking are always finished with plenty of input from the other band members. But even before going into the studio this time, he noted, “I did have the desire to play some more electric guitar-driven rock, something harder than I do on my solo records, which are more acoustic-based.”

He found a willing companion on electric guitar in Chalfant, who previously played, as did Dave Hower, with The Nields in the 1990s, when the Nields toured the country as a five-piece, folk-rock band. And over the years, Chalfant, who lives in Northampton and previously lived in Conway, has also backed up numerous other musicians on guitar, both in his recording studio and on stage.

You can hear the interplay between the two guitarists on cuts like “Reservoir Town,” a post-breakup anthem (“This is how it’s gotta be / for me / to forget you”), which is carried along by two distinctive riffs, with Chalfant anchoring the song on some lower notes and Crommett adding a high-note counterpoint.

“Dave is really masterful in the way he finds ways to support a song without ever getting in the way of the performance,” said Crommett. “In this case, he found that riff, and it worked perfectly.”

The album gets off to a particularly fast start with “In Stereo,” which features great drumming, churning bass, U2-ish guitar riffs and, as befitting its title, a double-tracked vocal from Crommett. Like a few other songs on the album, “In Stereo” comes with some stutter-step rhythmic breaks; there’s also a quick, reverb-flavored solo.

Another propulsive rocker, with a hint of alt-country flavor, is “Sikh Man Running,” with enigmatic lyrics (“There’s a deep man digging through the little that he knows”) and a call-and-response guitar sound; it could stand in for a lost track from a Long Ryders album, circa mid/late 1980s.

“So Deep and Heavy” also features some U2-flavored riffs, with a catchy chorus and a taut guitar solo toward the finale of the song, which comes to an abrupt and surprising end.

Crommett’s new tunes in part address the natural world, with references to the sky, water, wildlife, and solitude. But his lyrics, he says, also tend to be more focused on creating a certain emotional tone and atmosphere than in telling a detailed story: “I look for how the lyrics sound when I’m singing them, kind of how they resonate and how they match up with what I’m feeling.”

The band sounds tight as a drum (Crommett, Germer, and Hower are also part of Winterpills, the Valley “chamber-pop” group fronted by Phillip Price and Flora Reed). There’s nothing overly fancy here — no long solos, no complex melodies — but “Wild Love” has a rich, layered tone. There are some keyboard and acoustic guitar tracks set deep in the mix of a few songs, Crommett notes, but the emphasis throughout is on electric guitar, bass and drums.

The album, at least the instrumental parts, was mostly recorded in 2019, he says, and he was set to work on his final vocals when the pandemic hit. So he borrowed a good mic from Chalfant and built himself an improvised sound booth in his basement from blankets, wood planks and an ironing board.

“It was a little strange doing [the vocals] at home on my own, but it also gave me plenty of time to work on them and fine-tune the lyrics,” Crommett noted.

The band, which like myriad other groups has had to sit out the pandemic, had considered waiting to release “Wild Love” when it secured some new live gigs, but Crommett said they then decided to put it out now. “We’re really happy with the way it came together, so why not just have it out there?” In the meantime, they’ll look for some opportunities to play this fall as clubs reopen.

“We’re so ready to play — we can’t wait to get out there,” he said.

You can find out more about “Wild Love” and Spanish for Hitchhiking at spanhike.com/wildlove.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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