Unheard-Of records are releasing 'Through the Hardship of the Seasons' as a final hurrah for Russell Hoke, an oddity of folk and country music who makes witty psychedelic folk songs with the bizarre lyrical content to go with them. If you go on his album covers alone, Hoke looks more likely to resemble outsider artist Daniel Johnston than your average crooner; he was most active twenty years ago, and originally had little interest in reaching an audience, making records so that he could play them back to himself, and often not bothering to actually release his pressed records. As it stands, he has only risen to prominence on the eve of his retirement from music altogether; Hoke has declared that 'Through the Hardship of Seasons' -- a new EP of original material, as well as a cover of delta blues standard "Longhaired Doney", popularised by R. L. Burnside -- is his final venture.
While 'Through the Hardship of Seasons' is ultimately a solo effort, containing four acoustic songs performed by Hoke, there are strands of a more full-bodied psychedelic approach. It's evident on "Driftwood", in which he leads a band with banjo and enlists backing vocals from collaborators Heidi Buchhorn and Gus Wanner. Overall, though, the record is a showcase of Hoke's sparser, more acoustic works and his sharp word play, which resembles the personal songwriting of indie pop artists like Stephin Merritt as much as anyone. Hoke's songwriting can often lose this sense of structure, though, and veer into the hypnotic folk sound you might expect of newer experimental artists like Richard Youngs or John Fahey. 'Through the Hardship of Seasons' ultimately stands as new and current material from an artist deemed to be lost in the past, and it's quite lucky Hoke even bothered to release it to the world.