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
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
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
2. 2. One Last Time
3. Pepper & Salt
4. Terms And Conditions
6. On Winter Blues
8. Sight Unseen
9. Ben Franklin's Blues
10. Gwendolyn Brown
11. Rat Race
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