Folk Fantasies

Oakley Hall's very American jams

In the past few years, the U.S. has produced some fantastically cracked underground folkies deeply inspired by such tripped-out Brits from the '60s as Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. But then again, we broke from the United Kingdom a long time ago, and our country's music roots lie not in Stonehenge and Chaucer but in Appalachia, New Orleans, Nashville, and hippie-with-a-pedal-steel California.

A growing number of new musicians exist who are not only invoking these very American roots but also experimenting with them in ways that the too-tame alt country sect rarely does. I'm talking about such outfits as the Skygreen Leopards, Franklin's Mint, and the ass-kickin' Oakley Hall. The latter is a Brooklyn sextet of urban cowboys 'n' cowgirls — named after a cultish Californian novelist — who recorded three discs to date, including two just this year: Second Guessing and Gypsum Strings. The CDs are an assortment of banjo 'n' fiddle-spiked laments about suicide, poppin' prescription pills, and heavy drinkin', as well as churning, quasi-psychedelic jammers exploding with Haight Ashbury-bred fret work and ominously droning he/she vocals that pick up speed like massive locomotives as they race toward the Red Dog Saloon.

Oakley Hall's ability to successfully fuse folksy storytelling and freaky sonic excursions works in large part because of its singer/chief songwriter/guitarist/creative anchor — the well-seasoned, extremely talented alchemist Pat Sullivan (aka Papa Crazee). He achieved a similar feat (albeit in a garage-rock and cosmic prog context) with his previous group Oneida. Oakley Hall isn't nearly as "out there" as Oneida, as this group comprises true country loving traditionalists. But these folks sure are updating American roots music — injecting it with distortion, fuzz, and a pulsating freak-rock groove. Hell, let's just call 'em the modern-day equivalent to that hell raisin' family of honky-tonkers from the '50s, the Maddox Brothers & Rose.

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