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Frog Holler
Haywire
Zo Bird Records
www.frogholler.com


I feel pretty proud. It's not everyday you discover a young band that makes you immediately stop in your tracks and want nothing more than to hear more music from that particular band. That's how it was when I first heard Frog Holler's "Sleepy Eyes". I was immediately entranced. I felt that the EP that the song was taken from was a very good starting point for the band, and I hoped that as they continued to write and record that they would head in a certain direction, improving on their country roots, neglecting a bit of the rock ethos that was hidden in their songs. I'm very happy to announce that the next record from Pennsylvania's Frog Holler has arrived, and while it is not all country, the rock has developed into a far purer form and has gained Frog holler its own distinctive identity. This is Haywire, and it is filled to the top with alt-country goodness… one hundred percent, my friends. That's good stuff.

"Hades" kicks the album off in the same sure-fire way that "Berks County Boy" started off The High, Highs & The Low, Lows… that is with a good amount of dark distortion and low-tempo drums that force the strong lyrics right into your ears, leaving no possible avenue of escape. "How come there's Heaven for us, bit not til we die/ Meanwhile there's Hades for us while we're alive"… all over a bed of sonic goodness that would make Jay Farrar proud. Thus begins an album of songs that question the deeper meanings of life and the relationships with which life is infested. "One Last Time" continues the musical onslaught with a barrage of excellently played guitar leads and slide licks that stand up to just about anything out there in current music. Hammond organ gives "Pepper & Salt" a bit of a gospel feel, but overwhelmingly begins the album's tendency to a sound more like the Connells than any contemporary group. The same deeply penetrating understanding fills the lyrics of Darren Schlappich as those of Mike Connell in his finest moments; brief and unrelenting observations on humanity and the forces that shape a life.

"Terms And Conditions" finds Frog Holler breaking into the bluegrass style that first made me fall in love with them. Rolling banjo licks and crisp acoustic guitars underscore the brilliant harmonies of the band as they gallivant through one of the liveliest tracks on the record. For softer bluegrass music, check out the smooth "Ben Franklin's Blues" a bit later on the album, but don't forget to ponder the odd childhood story told in "'74" to an extremely beautiful and heavily dynamic musical accompaniment. This is one of my favorite tracks on the record, by far, as it really showcases not only what the band can do musically, but what Schlappich can really pull off vocally when the lyrical content gets profoundly personal. Great steel work pins the witty lyricism of "On Winter Blues", while banjos and acoustic guitars make a soft bed for the title track and its observations on life: "How can you really say this is the only way to live and die?/ because if we've learned a lot, we forget a lot/ keep repeating it and never stop for signs and I decided/ if you can sin everyday and still in the end be saved and see the light/ why wouldn't I?" The song ends up with a noisome blast of energy (and cool guitar leads) that accompanies the chant "No, we won't see eye to eye."

"Sight Unseen" takes a bit more abstract approach to its introduction, slowly incorporating all the instruments and then bursting into a rocking tune filled with excellent lyrics and a really captivating guitar line that leads through the song like a thin rope leading home in the dark. As mentioned before "Ben Franklin's Blues" is a soft, bluegrassy tune that relaxes me back into my chair, eliciting smiles and comfort immediately. "Gwendolyn Brown" borrows some guitar bits from sources as varied as The Beatles and Son Volt to tell it's darkly brooding story with amazing turns of lyric that lead in a distinctly Neil Young type of way. The album ends with the trudging bluegrass of "Rat Race". This tune makes a host of informative observations on modern life and then makes a sudden change into a more lighthearted and hopeful music laced with possible answers for the problems that we, as modern city-dwelling humans, encounter every day. And for a band to not only give you some questions, but present possible answers to some of life's daily conundrums, is a wonderful and rare thing.

My most honest desire is for each of you that enjoys well written, well played lower key rock music or alt-country to go right now to CDBaby or some local record shop and find your very own copy of Haywire. You will be blessed with the same peace of mind and good feelings that I hold inside my heart thanks to the music contained therein. Long live rock… er, country… whatever.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. Hades
2. 2. One Last Time
3. Pepper & Salt
4. Terms And Conditions
5. '74
6. On Winter Blues
7. Haywire
8. Sight Unseen
9. Ben Franklin's Blues
10. Gwendolyn Brown
11. Rat Race


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