Pat Sullivan, a.k.a. Papa Crazy, left Brooklyn art rockers Oneida in 2002 to form his current venture, Oakley Hall. Just to make things clear, Sullivan did not leave Oneida in order to form Oneida Part Deux. In fact, the two bands sound absolutely nothing alike. So if you sit alone in your room, pining away for days of yore, you’re just going to have to put on that copy of Come on Everybody Let’s Rock again, remember how good you had it in 2001 and eventually come to accept that Sullivan has moved on. I’m sorry. But your nostalgic woe may dissipate once you hear Oakley Hall play their blend of country, folk and American roots music, which will now and forever be incorrectly labeled alt-country, as they are from Brooklyn and not from Nashville.
Second Guessing is Oakley Hall’s second LP and with a new album comes new members. Sullivan is joined on this effort by singer/co-songwriter Rachel Cox and drummer Greg Anderson. Among the remaining lineup are banjo player Fred Wallace and fiddler Claudia Mogel. Cox’s addition is a true enhancement to Oakley’s sound, especially on a song like “Blaze,” a honky-tonker with a slow plodding rhythm, that picks up Second Guessing when it begins to lag a bit in the middle. She adds a certain amount of sass to the song, in the vein of Loretta Lynn or Wanda “Hot Dog That Made Him Mad” Jackson. “I met your new boyfriend, / man a waste,” and “Why don’t you a take a walk? / Why don’t you get lost? / Why don’t you get out of here? / Why don’t you fuck off,” she sings on “Blaze,” giving the album a certain bite. Cox is stronger singer than Sullivan, and it shows on songs like “Adalina Roselma Lapage,” which suffer, at first, under his comparative lack of vocal prowess. But Sullivan’s off the cuff vocals have their charms and his voice becomes endearing after several lessons. Oakley Hall sound best, though, when Cox, Sullivan, and Mogel join together in harmony, like they do on the chorus of “Landlord.”
Cox and Anderson may be the new kids in town but it’s Mogel who is the real star. Her fiddle is often put in the forefront of the mix, and rightfully so. Her violin sounds dirty on “Mumbles” and is gorgeous on “Light of my Love” and Mogel is missed on songs like the title track in which her presence is not as prominent. Mogel’s powerhouse playing forces Sullivan to step up to the plate and he does well with an arsenal of guitar heroics, which is sometimes welcome but, at other times, makes the songs, like album opener “Hiway,” too long for their own good. Sullivan does have the power to control himself and exhibits this control on “Volume Rambler,” the longest song on the album, which, interestingly enough, does not seem long at all. The almost deadpan delivery of the song transitions nicely into an emotional cover of Buffy St. Marie’s “Cod’ine.”
Oakley Hall is slated to release another album at the end of 2006, titled Gypsiym Strings, and if Second Guessing is any indication, we have something to look forward to.
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