The adage about bands "being too big for the stage" used to apply to Oakley Hall—literally. A loosely knit ensemble of country-loving players and pickers that orbited ex-Oneida madman Papa Crazee (AKA Patrick Sullivan), they were birthed from the ashes of a rootsy grouping called Crazee & Heaven before they adopted the West Coast author's name as their own and made their way in Brooklyn playing at small clubs. In those days, they rolled in numbers upwards of 10: members, voices, and instruments jostled for space in the soundboard mix—and on the creaking platform itself. That tenuous era was best documented on their self-titled debut on Bulb. Alas, the center could not hold and that incarnation of the band blew apart soon after.
Undeterred, Sullivan began busking with North Carolina transplant Rachel Cox and a more streamlined and sure-footed incarnation of Oakley Hall emerged around the strengths of the two songwriters, fleshed out by banjoist-turned-guitarist Fred Wallace, fiddler Claudia Mogel, bassist Jesse Barnes, and cemented by drummer Greg Anderson (ex-Broke Revue and Windsor for the Derby). Now a sextet with defined roles (and more stage space), the band turned prolific, with a repertoire of 40-plus songs and two studio albums coming out this year.
Second Guessing and Gypsum Strings bring the band's strengths into sharp focus, the steely interplay heightening Cox and Sullivan's songs. With a broad instrumental palette, Oakley Hall can weave all over country's back roads: a clever down-home shuffle on "Light of My Love" and "Adalina Roselma Lapage" or a more protracted, gritty slow-burn on "Volume Rambler." Live, the band exposes not just the roots latent in both Cox and Wallace's playing, but the scuffed boots of country rockers like the Byrds and Gram Parsons. The band is also more than capable of embracing a sludgy modal drone not unlike peak-era Fairport Convention, mingling a psychedelic tinge with their high and lonesome sound. Oakley Hall are liable to drop both a tear and a dose in your firstname.lastname@example.org