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Oakley Hall - Gypsum Strings

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Artist: Oakley Hall

Album: Gypsum Strings

Label: Brah

Review date: Jun. 5, 2006

Until recently, Oakley Hall was just one of New York City’s better live bands. That’s about to change, and fast. Their third full-length – Gypsum Strings, an almost perfect if understated blend of Americana, psych and trad music – solidifies their ethos just as Patrick Sullivan & Co. take off for a national tour. (Thing is, Strings almost wasn’t the best Oakley Hall disc of 2006; it barely ekes out the excellent Second Guessing from February.)

The Brooklyn sextet rubs a conventional three-guitar set against electric fiddle, lap steel, organ and banjo. The contrasting co-ed harmonies of Sullivan (Oneida co-founder and chief songwriter), guitarist Rachel Cox and fiddler Claudia Mogel round out a sound so drenched in whiskey that the wires are starting to short.

The most potent ingredient on Gypsum Strings, however, is Fred Wallace’s virtuosic guitar work. The searing “Confidence Man” bursts into the red with a gritty grandeur – a pretty fair approximation of Black Oak Arkansas on a good day, minus a bit of the testosterone. In the same vein, “Lazy Susan” (employing the clever pun “What you doin’ in your garden?”) rambles along until an a cappella break opens up another hole for Wallace, who rips the song’s roots straight out the ground.

The languid “Having Fun Again” could have been a Palace track when they were still Brothers. The song’s playful lyrics, (“What’s up with Sadie? / Every time I’m lovin’ her / Wants to be first lady / Wants me to be governor”) are reminiscent of Dylan’s jovial turns on The Basement Tapes. The Saturday night/Sunday-morning ballad “Living in Sin in the U.S.A.” is the album’s blue ribbon, as Cox’s languorous voice drifts above a seesawing organ and sleepy slide guitar.

Actually, there’s not one broken string on Gypsum. The group’s riff-heavy version of the traditional “House Carpenter” approaches that of the untouchable Pentangle. “If I Was in El Dorado” comes off like the best Son Volt song never written. And the tender “Bury Your Burden” reminds me of my parents’ Dan Fogelberg records – and there’s a reason the guy went platinum like 10 times in the ’70s. The band keeps it slow and low for the final two songs, “Night Lights, Dark Days” and the unaccompanied banjo piece “Spanish Fandango,” which feels like a bleary-eyed sunrise after a night full of moonshine.

And therein lies the stunning disconnect between Oakley Hall and Gypsum Strings. Sullivan doesn’t live in El Dorado or the Basque foothills; his frontier is Far Rockaway. These songs somehow shake off the shackles of geography without feeling the least bit forced.

By Jake O'Connell

Other Reviews of Oakley Hall

Second Guessing

I'll Follow You

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View all articles by Jake O'Connell

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