The Compact is one of the most visible and highly regarded groups in Hobson’s native Hudson Valley, a region of New York that encompasses the vibrant music scenes from Hudson to Beacon on the east side of the river, and from Woodstock to the Newburgh area on the west. The Hudson Valley is only a short train ride from Ross’s hometown of New York City— and The flavor of 1@AX is decidedly urban and self-aware. It’s a deep study in sophisticated grooves, funky counterpoint, intertwining guitars and adventurous songwriting.
The songwriting team of Steven W. Ross and Erin Hobson calls their third release “One At A Time,” written as 1@AX (one at a time). It’s a reference to the way The Compact approached the recording of their third full-length album: each song was treated as a singularity, brought from sketch to final arrangement before the next song was begun.
The result is a collection of playful, spontaneous, and live-feeling originals (plus three covers) that draw their character from the unlikely partnership. The Compact’s signature is intuitive musical interplay and the striking personality contrasts between long-time collaborators Hobson on guitar and vocals, and multi-instrumentalist Ross whose primary instrument is the bass.
With pop hooks abound, the record also features spoken-word in three pieces, street poetry and surreal stream of consciousness narratives over deep grooves, drawn from multiple chapters of the American songbook. It’s a work of risk-taking, unfettered creativity that fuses pop values with earthy rhythms.
The record-opening single “It’s a Wash” evokes the push-pull groove of “Dancing In the Streets” as it obliquely relates the experience of living through Hurricane Irene. The duet’s voices harmonize, then split into call-and-response dialog (a recurrent theme on this record) before uniting for the hooky chorus. “Dirty Minds” is a relaxed and spacious R&B style riff-rocker with driving bass lines and honky-tonk piano comping.
The album’s bonus track “Bite Me” is a bracing, minute-long, blast of roots-punk originally written for an indie dark comedy film.
While Steven W. Ross has always been integral to the Compact’s writing, arranging, and performances, on 1@AX (one at a time) he steps to the mic in front of the group for the first time. Bringing a smart, thorny personality to songs like “Rest My Soul” and “The 24th Of May,” and serving throughout as gritty foil and friction for Hobson—bristling against her smooth tunefulness.
The Compact seem to have fun writing as much as they do performing. As the title suggests, this project is the sum of the songs themselves, each of which was written and recorded one a time.
“The idea was to build a collection of ‘feels,’ giving each track its own atmosphere. We drew from grooves that evolved in jam sections at our live shows,” says Ross, who was mentored by legendary producer Paul Rothschild (the Doors, Janis Joplin), and in addition to producing 1@AX contributes guitar, keyboards, drums, and percussion. “Other songs were created from the ground up in the studio. We wanted this album to capture the freedom we feel when we gig.” Hobson adds, “One at a Time’s process has been liberating for us both, and kind of a joy.”
Two tracks were recorded live at Helsinki Hudson one of the area’s top echelon of music venues in Hudson NY. The live tracks give insight into the loose-but-tight, expansive feel of the whole project. The covers serve to exemplify not only how The Compact own these covers, but their choice of songs says a lot about the range: Ani DiFranco’s “Buildings And Bridges,” “Karma,” by Alicia Keys and Jimmy McGriff’s “The Worm,” emphasize the way in which The Compact arrange, play, and marry soulful playing with songwriting smarts, the topical and the timeless.
For drums, The Compact called on the talents of heavy-hitter friends, including Gary Burke (Bob Dylan, Joe Jackson), and Dan Hickey (They Might Be Giants, Jules Shear) and Stephen Marnell, with three tracks with Ross at the drumset.