SUBDUED BUT JOLLY Dark Hollow Bottling Company.
Dark Hollow Bottling Company take a piece of their name from an old-school folk/bluegrass tune, "Dark Hollow," possibly made most famous by the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia's Old and in the Way, but also recorded as early as 1926, with popular versions from Bill Browning, Jimmy Skinner, and Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, with Del McCoury singing. On their first album, Gone, Gone, Gone, the Company hold pretty true to the implied form, with a nice collection from the five-piece of original, rollicking acoustic-folk tunes, filled with banjo, fiddle, dobro, and an occasional squeezebox.
"Kicking My Dog Around" is sing-songy and old-timey like the first Old Crow Medicine Show records. The closest thing they come to bluegrass is probably the finishing "Slew Foot," which features a descending mandolin line aped by the fiddle, but it's not anything pyrotechnic, and Dark Hollow are definitely not aspiring to fire-breathing individual performances like the Jerks or Stowaways, locally. Rather, they play like they've got a governor on, a subdued jumble and crash-about that's likely perfect for their monthly gig at Ruski's (i.e., it's a little bit boozy, and jolly in a cynical way).
Frontman Greg Klein is the centerpiece, his nasally bleat (in a good way) recalling Dylan in his Woody Guthrie days, and he shares a songwriting aesthetic with the Guthries and Pete Seeger, community themed and smart in his turns of phrase. The Avett Brothers do some similar things contemporarily, but they're not as light-hearted.
"Malaga" is a waltz with accordion and a recurring and jarring quick strum, a classic old-time anti-government ballad. "Ninja Rose" is a bit like Fables of the Reconstruction REM in its vocal phrasing. "Stakeout" is down-home Midwest country, with consistent vocal backing, and you can really hear the room at Acadia where Marc Bartholomew made sure the instruments can resonate for themselves, with very little meddling, and you can hear Klein urging on the band for the instrumental finish.
"Nature Girl" is a great bluesy vamp, with an electrified dobro from Jim White squawking rising two-note slurves (Bartholomew got a great sound here), a slowed-down Scruggs-style banjo from Corey Ramsey, and one of those percussion instruments that you crank to make pieces of wood click. Plus the "Nature Girl" sounds pretty hot: "My girl is licorice, she's an acquired taste/She's one part sweet, and one part you can't place . . . Yeah my baby loves her loving, she don't complain/But sometimes when we're done, she wants her loving again." The high harmony in the finish there is a nice touch.
Klein writes songs that are easy to quote in paragraphs, with phrases that hold your attention, but there are some distractions. Riley Shryock's fiddle, mixed high in the right channel, can be droning and repetitive. I'd love to hear a few more shuffles and either very long or very short, crisp bow strokes. The backing vocals sometimes lean more toward the gang variety where some more scripted harmonies might prettify things.
But these are the things the purists in the lawn chairs at the front of the bluegrass festival might notice. In contrast, I could see fans of Hot Day at the Zoo and folks on the jam circuit going pretty nuts for this band. They're authentic sounding, easy to get along with musically, and appear to be having a ton of fun. It's a record with great charisma. I believe every song thoroughly.
There are definitely people in Portland who would find Dark Hollow among their favorite bands should they stumble across them. What more could a band want?
Sam Pfeifle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.