[26 March 2006]
Oakley Hall is from Brooklyn. It doesn’t sound like Brooklyn though. I’ve never been there—just stared at it from across the river. I have a fear of suspension bridges. I also have a Brooklyn Dodgers t-shirt. It’s my best porch shirt. Sitting on the stoop in my baby blue Brooklyn Dodgers shirt, lazier than a porch dog on porch day, listening to Oakley Hall.
“Do you read me baby doll?” A simple question asked by Pat Sullivan and his band on a song called “Adalina Roselma Lapage”. The porch swing answers with a creak, filling the gap before “Color the Shade” kicks in. The fourth and fifth songs of this band’s first real album, entitled Second Guessing, answer such a question with heated refrains of country soul. Rock and roll with nary a worry, except that which lay in the hands or down the street.
Solid and tangible, Oakley Hall. Seasoned musicians sounding like they’re done trying to prove themselves, more trying to display proofs already found. Working in a tradition of roots rock, they’ve found an apt vehicle for their straightforward missives. Bare-skinned longing and gravelly strength slide together in songs that remind the listener of a past as well as the present. The everyday and the always-been. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that this band’s sound points to friends and family, love and pain, hometown jams and barroom shadows.
Like I mentioned before, I’ve never been to Brooklyn, though I have been to Salem, New York, skipping stones and drinking cream sodas along the way. I have day tripped across Ontario, from Goderich to Ayr, and listened hard for the twangs of lovers across the rural northeast. Second Guessing seems to have made the same trip and somehow ended up as backward as it is uncomplicated. All in all, this record seems an orphan of geographical circumstance. The sound of Oakley Hall sings like a rural America neglected by its rich cousins. Singing in the face of urban well-doers with no time to relish in laidback harmonies or a well-struck banjo guitar, liable to lose out on the more obvious passions that country never forgets.
It seems obvious, then, that these Brooklynites are playing outside county borders. They’re running fast and hard to catch up with a down-bound train. Sometimes out-of-breath and somewhat crestfallen, there’s an almost mournfulness to the songs they put down. It’s feels real though, and the joy in the music cuts through any contradictions. City and country, cocaine and bourbon, fashion and history, pull and push.
There’s timelessness to this quarreling manner, of course, and it starts to make sense that it’s not coming from the middle, but that this rustic music is coming from such a modern, urban context like Brooklyn, New York. Because no matter what its station happens to be, what city it calls home, Second Guessing‘s swimming in a simple kind of beautiful, like calling your partner ‘baby’. The words come from the everyday. The instruments come from the fingers, and then out of big old amplifiers. Vocals come from male and female, converging sweetly in the middle—right where they should. It’s seamless, and pretty, and ought not be so surprising.