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Springing from '60s West Coast legends like the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Bros., the Charlatans, and Moby Grape, adding elements of X, Neu, the Feelies, and Fairport Convention, OAKLEY HALL is a roots rock sextet that refuses the dictates of stale No-Depression-era norms. None of the six members hail from Brooklyn originally - instead coming from all over the northeast and rural south: Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, New England, New York, and North Carolina. Although arriving from far-flung corners, in Brooklyn, they've bonded together over the common loves of close harmony and electrified strings, an insatiable musical curiosity, and the need to raise a racket on stage.
Songwriter Pat Sullivan founded the band in the early winter of 2002 and immediately recruited friends bassist Jesse Barnes, fiddler Claudia Mogel, and banjoist Fred Wallace to join what was then a ten-piece freak country free-for-all. After paring down the original line-up to six, Oakley Hall finally gelled in the latter half of 2004 with the recruitment of drummer Greg Anderson and singer-songstrix Rachel Cox (a former subway duet partner of Sullivan's). His swinging drum-style and her undeniable pipes lit a fire under the recently streamlined crew and a new energy emerged. Wallace, tired of being lost in the din of drums, strung a fender like a banjo and plugged in, while Mogel got a Marshall stack to keep up. The new line-up hit the ground running and recorded Second Guessing a mere month into their tenure. The record was released in January 2006 on Amish and garnered raves.
Their newest release, Gypsum Strings, finds them at the peak of their powers. Wallace, Sullivan, and Mogel trade leads with abandon on "Confidence Man" and "Lazy Susan" and shred together like the illest of string bands on "If I Was In El Dorado" and "House Carpenter." Cutting through the dense arrangements are powerhouse harmonies: Cox emerges as the Blue Ridge amalgam of Linda Ronstadt and Sandy Denny, while Sullivan provides the gritty anchor à la John Doe. Barnes - the best harmonizing bassist in the business - rounds out the group vox and, along with Anderson, establishes the axis on which the sextet's confection swirls. Gypsum Strings boasts some beautiful ballads that temper the heaviness like "Living in Sin in the USA", "Nite Lights, Dark Days," and "Bury Your Burden." While Sullivan and Cox's lyrics - concerning crumbling relationships, dying loved ones, chemical abuse, mental breakdowns, living in the red - echo some traditional country themes, the kaleidoscopic instrumentation and gritty feel set the music firmly in the contemporary palate. All told Gypsum Strings cements Oakley Hall's rep as luminaries of the new psych-roots movement.