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Oakley Hall
Bulb Records

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Despite the pills and the West Virginian back seats, regardless of a thousand alt-country historical revisionists' views of the big guy and his rebel honky-tonk soul, no matter what the Dead fan down the street tells you about the primacy of marijuana in American music (Willie aside), I think we can safely say that, "No, Hank didn't do it this way."

 

"This way" is country, bluegrass and honky-tonk rock put through the magnifying glass and kaleidoscopic sensory overload of 400 tabs of strong, circa-1969 LSD. It's acidic corruption to an extreme that's more escapist despair, like country music itself can sometimes be, than celebratory excess, like the drabber norm of classic-hits-radio acid rock. And "this way" is the Oakley Hall way.

 

The pulp cowboy novels from which they get their name are just about as close as the average Oakley Hall member gets to the range on their average Brooklyn-bound day. Yet somehow, that's not important on their initially homemade debut, re-released now by weirdo-haven Bulb Records. Not as important as the spiritual link the Hall-ites have made, not with "country music's rebel heart" or some such No Depression bullshit, but with the desperate Americana body that psychedelic music's formless ethereal soul has often yearned for. So, whether it's the electrical reverb stream in which fiddle, electric guitar and lap steel are baptized on "5 Sided Die," or the touching late-night car-radio strum and Sylvia Plath lead vox of "You Wouldn't Believe What I've Been Up To," Oakley Hall makes them not just dangerously and corrosively American, but fetching little mind-fucks, too.

 

For that, perhaps, we can blame helmsman Papa Crazee's years in New York's (and the country's) finest psych-rock outfit, Oneida. (Doubt his moniker? Count fingers and teeth next time he hugs you.) But more likely, we can blame modern rock and country radio: When there's no decent honky-tonk or Grateful Dead or Japanese noise-core on the dial for those long trips across the Midwest or the mid-West Side, kids are likely to make beautiful mistakes like "Tuscaloosa," which, for all we know, Oakley Hall thinks is as country as country can be. After all, it's all about vocal harmonies and "losing my grip," and avoiding some shit town full of shit people and shit ideas, regardless of the fuzzed-out guitars and multi-tracked fiddles and the warped three-minute lap-steel solos, right?

 

Re: Oakley Hall's country cred. Steel-stringed guitar, lap steel, bass, drums, mandolin, fiddle instrumentation: check. Heartfelt optimism in the face of true despair: check. Soulful inter-band reliance on one another's vocal and instrumental contributions: check. Crutch-leaning on pre-conceived musical and lyrical boundaries, rather than big-sky spiritual grazing: not so much. American beauty: check, check, check.

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