In a world where rappers now play at Bonnaroo, I suppose it shouldn't be any surprise that an alt-country band is from Brooklyn. New York has never had to deal with being the "next" anything when it comes to music. It reliably churns out good bands like an indie-rock conveyer belt. But you can still hear echoes of the place in bands like TV on the Radio and even gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello-an underlying sense of urban restlessness.
That same quiet chaos underlies the countrified albums by Oakley Hall. But, mostly, you think, I can't believe these guys are from Brooklyn.
"That's sort of the sign of the times," explains bassist and co-vocalist Jesse Barnes, en route to Knoxville. "A couple of years ago, it was easy to pigeonhole a Brooklyn band, but we always made it a point to not get lumped in with other alt-country bands and play with weirder, nosier bands."
Welcome to the noise-country scene? Nah, too blatantly douchey of a label. But Oakley Hall do have a hard time categorizing their sound: a blend of country, psych-folk and Southern rock with just a dash of feedback. What would you expect from folks who named their band after a Western pulp-fiction author and whose new album title refers to an obscure North Carolina root with psychoactive properties? Too loose for hipsters and too methodical for hippies, you can call them My Bloody Skynyrd.
"It's a mix, and it keeps it interesting," explains Barnes. "We just pulled people from all the various circles of musicians that we knew, so there's a little of something for everybody there."
One of those musicians is vocalist and guitarist Pat Sullivan, who left noise-rockers Oneida in 2001 and formed the core of Oakley Hall with drummer Will Dyar, banjoist Fred Wallace and fiddler Claudia Mogel (the only native New Yorker in the band). With six other members at the time, they dubbed themselves a "10-piece freak-country free-for-all."
After dwindling down to a six-piece, with guitarist Rachel Cox and drummer Greg Anderson, they recorded Second Guessing with a tight focus on melody and the dueling vocals and guitars from Cox and Sullivan. The duo are reminiscent of Doe/Cervenka or Parsons/Harris, depending on your musical sensibilities.
Barnes confirms that Second Guessing was a rushed effort, but their newest, Gypsum Strings, sounds like a band successfully gripping a handful of styles-complete with looser jam sessions and Neil Young-inspired guitar solos. "If I Was in El Dorado" is a barn-burning hoedown of a tune. Contrast that with "Bury Your Burden"-which sounds like something unearthed from an old Alan Lomax recording from Appalachia-and the heavy riffage and authoritative vocals of "Lazy Susan" and "Confidence Man" and you get the sense that they've found their niche even if Barnes doesn't know how to describe it.
"It's much more songwritery, and yet there are some pretty epic jammers on there, too," he says. "But those two things really do make it the best of both worlds."
Oakley Hall plays with Yovee and Reeve Oliver at The Casbah on Oct. 13. $10. 619-232-HELL.