Pittburgh Tribune-Review - January 6, 2016

Latest CD by Pittsburgh band Brewer's Row reflects on simpler times

by Rege Behe

“There Was a Time We Were Kids,” the title of the new Brewer's Row CD, is a line from the album's first song “Jimmy.” But it could just as easily been culled from the band's biography, given that the musicians include three members of the Hohman family, whose musical lineage spans decades.

“For me, it's like I died and went to heaven,” says guitarist and vocalist Mark Hohman of playing with his children — Nicholas Hohman (guitars and vocals) and Leah Hohman-Esser (vocals and piano). “There isn't anything I'd rather do.”

“I don't think there are many kids who can claim they are in a band with their dad,” Leah Hohman-Esser says.

Brewer's Row will release “There Was a Time We Were Kids” on Jan. 9 at Howlers Coyote Cafe in Bloomfield.

The band was formed about seven years ago, when Nicholas Hohman returned home from college with a batch of songs he had written. With his sister and father harmonizing, the Hohmans started playing acoustic gigs at coffeehouses and open-mic nights. Later, bassist Corry Drake and drummer Nick Conti were added.

“We didn't have to figure out how to work together,” Mark Hohman says, noting how they traded verses on songs such as “Johnny B. Goode” or “The Battle of New Orleans” when Leah and Nicholas were in grade school.

“A lot of things came more naturally for us,” Leah Hohman-Esser says.

The family's musical legacy extends back to Mark's father, Larry Hohman, who sang in Pittsburgh-area barbershop quartets. Though that genre isn't part of the Brewer's Row repertoire, many other forms of music are incorporated. Described as Rustbelt Americana, the sound touches upon folk, country and rock, without actually fitting into those genres.

But it's the songs, written primarily by Nicholas Hohman, that provide emotional resonance. “Jimmy,” for instance, features a dual nature that is typical of Brewer's Row material.

“It's a theme throughout the album that has to do with change and accepting a path,” Nicholas Hohman says. “Recognizing a past and a history, and recognizing change while also (allowing) somebody else to put their own story into that phrase and relate to it. It's general enough so somebody can enter into it, but also be specific.”

Nicholas Hohman adds that many of the songs reflect a nostalgia for the past and simpler times. But that sentiment, often cloying, is instead burnished by music that owes allegiance to artists from Stephen Foster to Ryan Adams. It's music without limitations, although because of the musicians' personal situations — Nicholas and Leah are parents of young children — there are limits.

“You have to travel to make money or to become a renowned band,” Nicholas Hohman says. “I don't have any plans of spending weeks on the road, because I'm a full-time dad. But if we can play around (Pittsburgh) and get to nearby cities. ... I'd like people to listen to the music and come to shows. There are plenty of people in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County that haven't heard of us.”