Egg-Sucking Dogs: The Hill Country Hounds bring Tex-Mex to NOLA's music scene

“There is a special place in my heart for the Maple Leaf,” says Jason Brettel, drummer and bandleader of New Orleans-based Americana band Hill Country Hounds. He has fond memories of the venue stemming back as far as his teenage years when he played at the now defunct all-ages club Muddy Waters, which was then across the street from the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street.

“Back then, you could stand outside of the Leaf and see the stage through the glass,” he said. “I would always tell my parents my gigs were running late so I could hang outside and watch the bands. I remember thinking to myself, man, I wish I could play there.”

Brettel is currently living that boyhood dream, with the band taking on a Wednesday night residency at the iconic venue through the end of June. In addition, the Hounds’ self-titled debut album is about to be released.

“We are so excited about it,” Brettel said. “When you record an album, it seems to focus your sound. I think that a New Orleans’ vibe comes through on the album.”

With songs touching on subjects like female genitalia, the long drive across Texas and 100 proof liquor, the music of the Hill Country Hounds is a little trashy, a little twangy and a ton of fun. The Hounds have a southern flair, but they also pepper their sound with a touch of Cajun and blues, which isn’t surprising since the six members share diverse backgrounds.

Frontman Jamie Bernstein shares lead vocal and songwriting duties with Larry Hall, and the two men bring different approaches to the stage. Bernstein is a prolific musician with roots in Appalachia, and he released a solo album entitled WhoonDang in May. Onstage, Bernstein is all business while playing guitar but likes to shake his booty a little and have fun. Maybe that’s why Bernstein reminds Brettel of Johnny Cash, the legend they pay homage to in their tune “Cash Thing.” (Pronounced “thang.”)

“When I met Jamie a couple of years ago, I was blown away at how much he reminded me of JC,” Brettel said. “Jamie’s low voice and storytelling really fits our style, or maybe we fit his.”

Conversely, Hall has all the makings of a classic bluesman, which is evident in everything from his demeanor and elegant (relatively speaking) way of dressing to the rich, wailing sound that emanates from his guitar.

“Larry has this Chicago blues thing that helps define our sound,” Brettel said.

Sharing the front of the stage with Hall and Bernstein is Tom Marron, a 30-year New Orleans resident who supplies supporting vocals along with a fiddle and ruckus harmonica. Rounding out the Hounds are Bruce Tyner on pedal steel and the bumpin’ bass of NOLA native Miguel Barrosse, who moonlights as a sound engineer at local clubs including the Maple Leaf and Tipitina’s. Both venues are among the band’s favorite places to play, according to Brettel.

The Hounds’ June 11 show started slow enough for Bernstein to lament the size of the crowd and thank the audience for joining them on a “dead summer Wednesday,” but as the night wore on, the dance floor began to fill up with revelers who boogied down and howled like good hound dogs.

“This is a good show for a Wednesday night,” one audience member exclaimed approvingly, as somewhere in the background, another fan gave an appreciative howl.

The Hill Country Hounds’ residency continues at 10 p.m. June 18 and 25.