[27 January 2005]
I’ve spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania. I went to school in Gettysburg and had a girlfriend in Philadelphia, which entailed many trips to the train station in state capital Harrisburg. I still remember the names of the towns where the train paused briefly, sometimes stopping at little more than a wooden platform with a protective overhang: Paoli, Brynmar, Elizabethtown, Exton. I traveled with regularity through the shopping outlet paradises of Reading and Lancaster, marveling at the incongruous locations of the behemoth centers within the bucolic environment of rural countryside. I visited my friends’ Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother, shot guns at beer cans in her backyard, and pissed myself laughing at my friend doing spot-on Dutch imitations. As positive as all my memories of the lush Keystone State are, I still can’t completely account for Frog Holler. The band has been producing uniformly excellent albums since 1998’s Couldn’t Get Along, gradually honing the songwriting of Darren Schlappich into a coherent catalog of bluegrass picking and country rock that channels The Band as much as Del McCroury. All the while Schlappich has steadfastly sung about his beloved state with both passion and humor, deferring to the rolling landscapes and accents of Pennsylvania for inspiration. I suppose it’s not to be quibbled over; we should take good songs from wherever they originate, and Schlappich seems to have a ton of them.
On The Low Low’s & High High’s Schlappich and company provide fans with a between albums recording to satisfy appetites for their unique brand of country rock. This EP contributes a few brand new songs, as well as reworking a couple songs from Frog Holler’s first record Couldn’t Get Along. On previous albums, particularly Idiots and Railings, you could hear the rocking side of the band’s country rock. The big difference here is that on the continuum between a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, Frog Holler has turned up the feedback drenched guitars pretty loud.
The EP’s opening track, “Berks County Boy”, sticks close to Schlappich’s touchstone of Pennsylvania living. The song is a rollicking jam that begins as a mellow strum before opening up into smoldering electric guitar fuzz. The track’s purposeful pace accelerates into a rockabilly rave up ¾‘s of the way through. It’s as rocking as Frog Holler has ever been and a statement of purpose as much as any opening song can be. You won’t hear many moments of country picking on The Low Low’s & High High’s.
“Sleepy Eyes” is the EP’s lone moment of true country-rock, emphasis on country. It’s toe-tapping hoe down material, filled with banjo and brush struck drums.
“Off Course Walking” adds an organ to the mid-tempo rock formula. The Hammond acts as a stage for the extended electric guitar noodling that tears through much of the song. “Supposed To Be Livin’” adds a reverb effect to the guitar, pairing it with a repetitive banjo line that saves the song from sounding like an outtake from a Phish show.
“Glitter” is the centerpiece of The Low Low’s & High High’s and is dedicated to band friend Gerry Livers, noting that “Glitter” was his favorite Frog Holler song. It’s the most Frog Holler-esque track here, echoing the best moments of Railings. If nothing else Schlappich knows how to write a catchy chorus that sticks in your head long after it’s over. But even here the cranked up electric guitar is the star of the song, buzzing away behind Schlappich’s most melodic moments.
The album closes with “Million Things Good”, a loud dirty rocker that traces the territory currently being plied by such neo-southern rockers as Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket or the departed Black Crowes. Frankly, I’ll take Frog Holler’s interpretation of the genre; it’s just as loud and fun, but seems completely unforced with Schlappich effortlessly finding his sound without a hint of pretension.
While The Low Low’s & High High’s is a must for confirmed fans, those coming to Frog Holler a little late might be better starting with Railings or the wonderful Idiots as an introduction to the band’s Pennsylvania inspired roots rock.