Review: Abby Hollander Band

Abby Hollander grew up in a musical family in a musical town—Woodstock, NY—and after a few years bouncing around the world, she’s back in state, down state, in the hoppin’ metropolis of Brooklyn. Both a singer/guitarist and a songwriter, Hollander is presently a member of three separate musical groups: The Me Oh Mys (a duo with Hilary Hawke), The Boot Heel Drag (described on her website as a “rollicking honky tonk band”) and the eponymous Abby Hollander Band.

The latter’s first CD release is entitled just that: Abby Hollander Band. It holds eight songs, five written by the singer herself. Her voice is featured in each tune, with slick bluegrass-styled backing from a four piece band: Ellery Marshall on banjo, Jeff Picker on bass and guitar, Chris Maloy on guitar and Duncan Wickel on fiddle (there’s a single track appearance from bassist Larry Cook ). “Green Highway Home” begins the lively, bluegrass-styled set. Penned by Hollander, this upbeat ode celebrates her return to her home state of New York, rhapsodizing its beauties much as John Denver celebrated the landscape of western Virginia in his iconic pop song. “Darlin’ City,” the jazz inflected meditation of a narrator torn between city life and the country, reveals a sultrier side of Hollander’s voice, but one which is offset immediately by “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin,” a straight up bluegrass thumper written by J. Irby.

“Builder and the Breaker” is a plaintive, love-troubled song, a theme that continues in “High and Lonesome,” which features some tasty fiddle playing from Wickel. The fiddle takes a double-tracked Bob Wills’ turn in J.D. Miller’s “Let the Whole World Talk,” a bouncy affirmation of love’s redemptive powers. But alas, trouble returns in “Loneliness Here,” a mountain styled romp that slides from major to minor and back, just as the narrator’s mood fluctuates from dark to light.

“Rising Water Line”

The album closes with its deepest and most mournful song, “Rising Water Line.” This piece drops the banjo for a strong, flat-picked guitar, as Hollander develops a survival metaphor of a family grouping together and holding hands against the rising flood waters inside their home (remind anyone of recent events in Houston?). This closing number is clearly the strongest piece of writing on the album and bodes well for Hollander’s future songwriting efforts. She has a supple singing voice capable of a Shannon McNally type soulfulness, a direction she might pursue if she wants to separate herself from the pack of bluegrass song-callers.

Jeff Clapp

Jeff Clapp, a retired English prof and longtime guitar player, used to play regularly with the HVBA and now jams with various seagulls in South Portland ME.

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