HOT TRACTOR – Love What You Can
Former Cool Waters Band keyboardist Shane Hardwicke struck out on his own in 2004 and formed the band Hot Tractor, in which he could apply his considerable multi-instrumental skills. In addition to being an outstanding keyboard player, Hardwicke is also a fine guitarist, mandolinist, singer and songwriter. Hot Tractor sports a full six members, all of whom are quite adept.
There’s a solid rock foundation to Hot Tractor’s music, especially in the instrumental sections, which are in ample supply. Guitarist Ian Hart positively screams on songs like “Anecdotal Surprise” and the title track, which strongly recalls the Allman Brothers with its dual lead-guitar lines. The former also features a red-hot harmonica solo from Jason Naber. Hot Tractor adds a lot of other elements to the music. By turns they can sound funky, bluesy, jammy or Phish-y. They throw in some bluegrass-influenced vocal passages as well, especially on “Stop,” a track reminiscent of Blues Traveler once it kicks in. On “Mountain” they employ some scratching over a swinging, almost disco beat and a funky guitar line à la Prince circa the Kiss album. “Wisco Life” is a nearly country-bumpkin piece, an acoustic-based number about life in the Midwest. “Cold Beer and Comedy” is somewhat similar and at 3:57 is the shortest cut on the CD. Album closer “Collapse” is perhaps the most memorable song on the album with a steady, bouncy melody. The band can no doubt stretch these six and seven minute songs out a lot longer in live performance.
Based in Waupaca, Hot Tractor represents the strong hippie contingent that makes up the Central Wisconsin area, a stronghold of organic farms and those following the road less traveled. The lyrics on Love What You Can are rife with references to sunny days, oceans, tall trees, grass (both kinds) and good times. “Wisco Life” sums things up pretty well: “Our kind don’t get off on money / We got no love for nine-to-five / I feel so lost here in this country / Wonder how I’ll spend the rest of my life.” As such the songs are a bit breezy and a little hard to hold onto, and that can be exacerbated by the sometimes sudden shift in musical styles. These players are very accomplished instrumentally and, if they can zero in and focus a bit more on these strengths, they could become quite a potent musical force.