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Oakley Hall - Second Guessing

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Artist: Oakley Hall

Album: Second Guessing

Label: Amish

Review date: Apr. 5, 2006

Back in the day before country-rock and alt-country developed into full-fledged and recognizable genres, Gram Parsons dubbed his style “cosmic American music.” There’s probably no better way to describe Brooklyn’s Oakley Hall, a six-piece outfit led by former Oneida member Pat Sullivan. Parsons’ shadow looms long over their sophomore effort, Second Guessing, an album that fuses country and folk influences with Southern rock guitar pyrotechnics and an underlying psychedelic ethos.

Generally upbeat and catchy, Sullivan’s deft songwriting provides the cornerstone for the groups sound, but the contributions of Rachel Cox (vocals and guitar), Claudia Mogel (fiddle), and Fred Wallace (guitar, lap steel, and banjo), are equally important in bringing it to life. Mogel’s perfectly-placed flourishes keep the country component high in the mix, while the triple-guitar attack of Wallace, Cox and Sullivan evokes rock giants like the Allman Brothers Band and at blusier moments, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Cox also contributes two highlights: the wistful “Color the Shade” and the electrified folk ballad “Eyes, Lock, and Steel,” which sounds something like an Americanized Fairport Convention.

Despite his strength as a songwriter, Sullivan isn’t a particularly compelling lead vocalist. This weakness is mitigated, however, by the prevalence of group vocals and harmonies, often dominated by the powerful voice of Rachel Cox. Second Guessing is a bit lacking in the lyrics department as well, dominated by tales of drunkenness (the couplets “loaded like a dumptruck / acting like a dumb fuck” and “You’re cutting loose, I’m getting tight / I’m going down in a blaze to night” come to mind), broken glass, and heartbreak. These Southern rock commonplaces are hardly unexpected, but they often feel rather tossed-off and inconsequential, as though they existed simply to contribute to the band’s image rather than for any real artistic purpose.

Oakley Hall’s few shortcomings are, in the end, not particularly grave. Second Guessing is an exemplary country-rock outing, executed with considerable flair. Perhaps the band will gain a more compelling soulfulness on their next album (due out in July), but for now, their musical prowess is more than enough to keep them aloft.

By Michael Cramer

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