"The musicianship, lyrics, heart, and soul are alive and well with the Hope machine, I'm really enjoying their new CD, the only thing better... is seeing them live." -Hale Milgrim, KTYD FM, Santa Barbara 3/4/09
"With what began a few years ago as a friendly tribute to Woody Guthrie, Fred and I find ourselves in a very different frame of mind today. We have come to realize that the sentiments Woody stumbled onto through all his wanderings around this amazing country, was one of a man who could handle the truth. So much so that rather than just setting at the kitchen table, or some fancy big name coffee shop, complaining to anyone within ear shot about what somebody else should be doing about all the disparity, and inequality, Woody put what he was seeing, and thinking into poetry, drawings, and oh yeah, those songs.
When you walk through the Woody door of cold hard, facts of life, you find yourself being ushered into the theatre of real American life. Most of which unfortunately hasn’t changed that much since he first began writing about it more than fifty years ago, lots of folks still struggling to meet their basic needs and hold on to what they’ve got. You also quickly find yourself in the company of fellow hard travelers like Pete Seeger, who has lived his life expanding on those same principals of open eyed, clear thinking, plain talk, about the things people need to retain some integrity in the pursuit of happiness and human rights. Woody showed us a different perspective about our lives, Pete’s been teaching us how to sing our hearts desires in harmony for years. Maybe now it’s time for us listeners to take those inspiring songs and sentiments, out of the music halls and into our daily lives, and change our reality.
The great Indian Chief Crazy Horse said “we live in the shadow of the real world”, and I think there’s a forever truth there as it pertains to us as human beings and the reality we think we’re living in.
So Fred and I come one more day down this road with a greater understanding, and respect for those who came before, and happy that they shared so much of themselves for the likes of us to ponder." -Steve Kirkman
"A beautifully moving, low-key and melodic album which delivers 12 songs worth of gently tuneful and reflective folksy country, this baby makes for a very pleasant and soothing listen. The vocals offer lots of deliciously delicate harmonizing, the arrangements are extremely dulcet and arresting, the songwriting sharp and thoughtful, the tempos subdued, yet steady, and the beats clop along at a sweetly gradual rate. Best of all, there’s a real heart and warmth at work in this music that’s both affecting and admirable in its disarming sincerity. The songs alternate between nifty originals (the eminently hummable “Clearwater,” the neatly buzzing “Folk Singer”) and inspired covers of such Woody Guthrie classics as “Pastures of Plenty” and “Deportees.” A simply lovely little jewel." -Joe Wawyrzniak, Jersey Beat
"This CD first breathed life as a bit of Woodie Guthrie tribute hootenanny headed by an impromptu trio (Fred Gillen Jr., Todd Giudice, Steve Kirkman) and then grew into an adoption of Guthrie's thinking and spirit in a real-time, real world, roll up the sleeves affair. Thus, there are only three of Woody's songs here, but the entire album is in the famed troubadour's well-known mindset. Indeed, the ensemble's very name is drawn from a Guthrie lyric: "a human being is, anyway, just a hoping machine". Along the way, things gathered steam and slowly transformed, and a trib CD woulda been very nice but this is better.
Take the train-time mellow / rockin' version of Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty, about the plight of migrant labor on the landlorded fruitful land, a cut that arrests the attention through an impassioned voice and atmospheric electric lap steel guitar, not to mention a burnin' harmonica muttering and perambulating. It's a lament but an urgent one. Sundancer is equally plaintive but, as many of the tunes here, based in the plight of the natives so hideously treated by the Euros, and then Americans, who took the land, genocide included as a generous bonus plan. Big Green swells and billows with outrage over the devastation the native peoples suffered, "Sundancer" reins it in to temper outrage with admiration for the ways of the oppressed.
My God comes stripped down and rarely has that phrase been quite so affecting, repeated to drive home the point of desperation and forlorn spirits. Guthrie himself would've loved the cut, a perfect marriage of the heart of the common man with power of art, haunting long after the disc has been removed from the player. Through the entire set of songs, a wide variety of folk styles is employed, making Big Green a smorgasbord of modes and delights. Hope Machine is going far to preserve the past while singing to the present…and hopefully the future."
-Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Damn, folk music is a beautiful thing. Hudson Valley guitar slingers Steve Kirkman and Fred Gillen Jr. grasp this fact in a fundamental way; they wrap their arms around it in a big bear hug. Hope Machine began as a “friendly tribute” to Woody Guthrie, but somewhere along the way it became something more. It became an extension of Woody’s ideas and attitudes—with Kirkman and Gillen taking the wiry little wonder’s spirit forward into the now. Sure, they cover “Pastures of Plenty” and “Deportees” here, and they rock up “I’ve Got To Know,” but, with the aid of pickers like Abby Gardner, Matt Turk, and Lisa Gutkin, they create new songs, too.
Gillen’s “Sing Sing Sing” embodies a sentiment Pete Seeger, who is given more than one shout-out on the album, would second; Kirkman’s “Folk Singer” is wise enough to poke fun at itself and every other shlub with a six-string and a dream; and “Martyrs of the Native Nations” turns “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” into a newfangled anthem for old heroes. Gillen and Kirkman have perfect voices for this kind of stuff—tuneful without being too flavorful, plainspoken without being bland. The backing is sweet, tasteful, and tangy enough to bear repeated listenings—especially Gutkin’s whispering fiddle on Scott Urgola’s “My God.” It’s good to know that, with Woody gone and Pete recently turning 90, there’s someone ready to carry it on. Hope Machine is a beautiful thing. www.hopemachine.com. - Michael Ruby, Chronogram Magazine, 10/09