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Why House of Hamill has a new song called ‘Sneezing Loon’

In the world of traditional fiddle tunes, the tune titles can be just as interesting as the music itself. Titles can reference people, places or events. For example, Neil Gow’s “Lament For The Death Of His Second Wife” is a tribute to Margaret Urguhart to whom he was married for 30 years.

“St. Anne’s Reel” is named after The Bay of St. Anne in New Brunswick, while “Boneparte Crossing The Alps” commemorates Napoleon marching his army through the Great St. Bernard Pass in 1800.

Contemporary fiddle tunes are keeping up the tradition of having interesting stories behind their titles. Case in point is “Folk Hero,” the latest album by Canadian/American trio House Of Hamill.

Fans of NFL football will no doubt get the meaning of the lead-off track “Superb Owl.”

Additional titles include “Cat Bacon” and “Sneezing Loon.”

House Of Hamill’s Rose Baldino and Brian Buchanan are based in Allentown, PA and are the songwriters of the group, while Caroline Browning resides in Nashville Tennessee.

The genesis behind “Cat Bacon” goes back to the time Rose wasn’t feeling well so Brian made her breakfast in bed.

“I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t want to eat it so I fell asleep,” Rose recalled. “When I woke up our cat had jumped on the bed and was licking all of the breakfast. I didn’t want the breakfast, so I let him have it. I fell asleep again and when I woke up, the plate was gone, the cat was gone, and I was really confused. I dragged myself down the hall; Brian was eating the eggs and bacon [which] the cat had basically [already] eaten himself. I thought it was hilarious, so it kind of brought me out of my funk!”

The story of how House Of Hamill was formed has as much to do with airline flight cancellations as it does with musical connections. Over the years, Rose’s band, the American traditional group Burning Bridget Cleary, would cross paths with Brian’s band, Canada’s Celtic rock group Enter The Haggis. For the longest time it was only ever an exchange of “Hi.” But all that changed at the 2014 Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, MO when Rose’s bandmates had their flights cancelled.

“I wasn’t even there playing,” Brian explained.

He was at the conference representing the website platform Bandzoogle and had contacted Burning Bridget Cleary beforehand to ask them to stop by the Bandzoogle booth to say “Hi.”

“We said, ‘Hi. How are you doing?’ and then, ‘If I can find you a guitar, can you play our showcase with us?'” said Rose.

Four years later, House Of Hamill was scheduled to be the closing act at a festival in Colorado. They had hired a drummer and bass player to fill out the sound, but again, flight cancellations got in the way of those plans. After posting their need for replacements on Facebook, it was an Enter The Haggis fan from Florida who made Rose and Brian aware of Caroline’s availability.

“She said, ‘My daughter-in-law lives in Colorado and she plays bass,'” Rose recounted.

Caroline drove down to the festival site to practice with Rose and Brian before playing for the weekend.

“She did such a great job, and we clicked so well,” said Rose.

For a while, House Of Hamill continued as a duo with Caroline joining them from Colorado for a festival or well paying gig. Then, just before COVID hit, Caroline moved to Nashville, which meant the cost for flights was a lot cheaper.

“Now I would say it’s much more rare for us to play as a duo than as a trio,” Brian said, to which Rose added, “We kind of started writing some of the songs on Folk Hero that really required either a bass or a third party harmony. So we kind of made her a requirement in our band!”

One of the benefits of expanding from a duo to a trio is the focus of a performance is shared by more people.

“I don’t know how singer-songwriter people do it,” said Rose. “It’s very stressful even as a duo.”

“If Rose’s violin goes out of tune, I’m the only other person on stage to keep the audience entertained until she’s done,” added Brian.

Since both Rose and Brian play the violin, the last few years has seen them do “violin only” video versions of well-known rock songs, which they’ve posted to YouTube. So far, they’ve tackled “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Sweet Child Of Mine,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Hysteria.”

“The Sweet Child Of Mine’ video got picked up by a website called Music Crowns, based out of the UK,” said Brian. “It got about 16 million views and 400,000 shares. That was three years ago, and people are still commenting on that.”

Creating the videos and being able to perform a couple of the songs live with the help of a looper has expanded House Of Hamill’s audience.

“It’s great for wrangling in younger fans who are really into YouTube or Facebook,” said Rose. “It’s almost like a challenge for us to see what crazy song we can do.”

No crazier I’d say than coming up with fiddle tune titles like “Sneezing Loon.”

“We were at a small lake in Quebec,” Brian explained. “There was a loon going across the lake, and Rose had never heard a loon call. I had grown up going to Muskoka, so I was well familiar. I was all excited and said, ‘Rose, listen for the sound of the loon,’ and it sneezed! She was like, ‘Is that the sound I was supposed to hear?’

For more on House Of Hamill and their album Folk Hero, go to: houseofhamill.com.

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