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Oakley Hall - I'll Follow You

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Artist: Oakley Hall

Album: I'll Follow You

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 11, 2007

As they’ve toured over the past couple of years, Brooklyn-based roots rock revivalists Oakley Hall have occasionally weathered attempts at cred-assassination by southerners territorial over twang (and perhaps nonplussed by the band’s name, taken from a canonical southwestern literary figure). There are two easily observed ironies there. The first is that more than a few of Oakley Hall’s’ members were originally southerners previous to their expatriation to Brooklyn. The other, more importantly, is that Oakley Hall aren’t the first “southern sounding” band to emerge from New York. No matter how many down-home, advertised-on-cable southern rock compilations it appears on, Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” was penned and performed by New Yorkers.

Oakley Hall continue to proudly shun geographic determinism with I'll Follow You, which like their previous three full-length releases, mines musical memories of '70s Americana. They’ve taken their leap to Merge as an opportunity to add new, deeper layers of sound to the music that underpins their chill-inducing male-female harmonies. Still present is front-man Pat Sullivan's folky inflection, which sounds coincidentally Canadian enough to ever-so-slightly evoke Gordon Lightfoot. The music continues to drape slight modernizations over a roots music framework that tends to be way more country than it is rock and roll.

That’s not to say, though, that I'll Follow You is indistinguishable from something you’d hear on country rock radio. “Marine Life” starts out in that vein, but diverges from its main theme with occasional psych-tinged riffing. “Alive Among Thieves” open with a touch of Eastern-influenced psychedelia, and flips back and forth between country rock verses and reverberating riffs that pursue a harmonic crescendo. Tracks like “Rue the Blues,” which immediately brings to mind words like “hoedown” and “hootenanny,” whereas songs like “Angela” recall fresh takes on the musical themes of tear-in-my-beer Americana tracks (that track in particular vaguely recalling a wispy, female-sung version of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”).

Oakley Hall’s strong sonic ties to that particular brand of southern-fried, classic rock radio standard is both a strength and a weakness. Rachel Cox’s strong, cleanly articulated vocal style carries tracks like “Angela” to levels of accessibility beyond the boundaries of “indie” but in the minimally orchestrated “First Frost,” they carry the song into the easy listening side of the ‘70s singer-songwriter experience.

The slight psychedelic divergences and other assorted flourishes keep the album interesting, but they’re not enough in the forefront to make Oakley Hall come off like some permutation of psych-rock. I'll Follow You is countrified roots rock with no “ifs,” “ands” or “alts,” and if you can get into that, you can get into them. Maybe that’s the third irony of Oakley Hall – while the Brooklyn indie act has dealt with their fair share of hayseed hecklers, I’ll Follow You disc is so roots-rockin’, there ain’t no way a dyed-in-the-wool country rocker could blindly discern its Yankee origins.

By Matthew A. Stern

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