Reviews

Buzzard Hollow Boys | Charlottesville, VA

dropcaphe Buzzard Hollow Boys are based in Charlottesville, a central Virginia town known for harboring a fair number of aspiring local and migrant musicians. It is in this town that the four members of the Buzzard Hollow Boys met some twenty odd years ago.

Back then the drinking age was 18, a fact that contributed to a vibrant club scene supported largely by college students. It was at this time that T.A. formed a band called The Urgents that included Jeff Saine on electric guitar. The music was played fast and influenced by REM and other alt-rock bands on the cusp at the time. Eventually this band morphed into a band called Wolves in the Kitchen also with T.A. and Jeff. It was in this band that Jeff decided to take up lap steel and accordion, instruments that complimented a slightly different musical direction and a bend that was influenced by Townes Van Zandt, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Doug Sahm, to name a few. It was during this run that Kurt Dressel joined the band on electric guitar. Kurt and T.A. worked together at The Virginian restaurant, down on the UVA corner, but that's another story.

All things run their course it's been said, and so The Hanks were formed with Kurt, T.A. and a bass player named Sonny Layne. Sonny played bass for one of Charlottesville's favorite bands The Casuals. T.A. also played in another local favorite The Stoned Wheat Things. Sonny and Jeff also became part of a band that backed up another local favorite in the Terri Allard Band. All four of these musicians converged in a band called Spike Jr. and his Saddle Sores, Charlottesville's one and only Western Swing band. Which brings us more or less to the present - The Buzzard Hollow era. An amalgam of twenty odd years of musical influence. The Buzzard Hollow Boys are:

Tim "T.A." Anderson - lead vocals and rhythm guitar
Sonny Layne - upright and electric bass
Jeff Saine - pedal steel, lap steel and accordion
Kurt Dressel - electric and acoustic guitar

Buzzard Hollow Boys Band

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In a time when many musicians have given up making CD's, The Buzzard Hollow Boys prove their undying love for playing music together by recording a disc of 13 beautifully rendered traditional (and traditional sounding) tunes. I hesitate to call the band's sound mature, because that is a description that only seems best understood by those who have been to the edge, those who understand the depth of feeling that comes from going to the musical well many times. And when you throw a coin into this well, you are still surprised when you finally hear how deep it is when your coin hits water. While these tunes may seem like front porch music on first inspection, the ensemble musicianship is so empathic (these players are true listeners) that their playing is really a conversation.

Just check out the beautiful intertwine between the electric and the steel on "Banty Rooster Blues", and then add in the singer's shout, and the sum becomes greater than the individual parts. The band gives "Goin' Where The Chilly Winds Don't Blow" the dust bowl treatment, that beautiful 1940's American fusion of jazz and country music. "Pick Poor Robin Clean" rides the accordion 2-stroke, allowing the soloists to stretch. "Windsboro Cotton Mill Blues" has been down so long it acts like it's feeling good. And "Kentucky Moonshiner", though listed as traditionally written, sounds like it's from one of those great 1970's East Texas Songwriters; that's how good these boys are at picking material. There's a touch of western swing and dash of bluegrass gospel. I saw the crawdads go in the gumbo, but what else is in there that makes it taste so good?

The other beautiful addition to the musicianship on this disc is the singing. Besides the lead singer's easy ability to travel between styles, the whole band adds ensemble vocals in sparse doses. The chorus at the end of "Rocksalt N' Nails" conjures up the beautiful "Calvary Cross" of Richard Thompson. "Who Killed Poor Robin" begins in the droning direction of The Incredible String Band, and then deftly bridges that gap to wind up like The Velvet Underground.

The Buzzard Hollow Boys clearly seem to have reached that place where they hear the beauty in less. And while there may be fewer notes, they are all in the right places. Look out, this is some soulful stuff.

— Spencer Lathrop



Just where in the blue blazes is Buzzard Hollow?

According to the band's promo materials it's located somewhere between the Dust Bowl and the Mississippi Delta. Or maybe it's situated in a dark hollow of the "old, weird America," that phrase coined by music writer Greil Marcus to describe the pre-World War II music best exemplified by the murder ballads, train songs, and jug band stomps collected on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.

Location may be less important than state of mind, and it's plain to see (and hear) that the Buzzard Hollow Boys have spent their fair share of time holed up with the Harry Smith anthology. They've also spent the better part of 20- odd years playing American roots music, together and separately, in a bevy of bands that personified the old, weird Charlottesville: Johnny Sportcoat and the Casuals, Wolves in the Kitchen, the Hanks, and Spike Jr. and His Saddle Sores, to name just a few. Their latest incarnation, as the Buzzard Hollow Boys, is perhaps the most satisfying to date, and this collection of songs, Moonshine Remorse Redemption, is the happy result of what a couple of decades worth of woodshedding will bring about.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of what could be called, for want of a better term, neo-string bands. The musicians, sometimes as many as six or eight on the stage, are mostly young, highly enthusiastic, and undeniably talented. But there is a certain frenetic, hey-look-at-me quality to the music that suggests a bit of seasoning is still in order.

That's why it's refreshing that this album is not a product of the Buzzard Hollow Boys' youth. The original intent was to go for a field recording-type sound or a live around the microphone feel. Those are legitimate choices, and a younger version of the band might have gone for the gimmick. Wisely, they decided to go for a more polished sound - though one played on vintage instruments and through vintage equipment. As a result, the musicianship on Moonshine Remorse Redemption breathes with a quiet, unhurried confidence that comes only through years of experience. What you don't hear is as important as what you do.

So listen for the wide open spaces in Moonshine Remorse Redemption. It's the sound of the great American songbook, as interpreted by musicians at the top of their game. If the album cover says this is Volume 1, let's all hope for a Volume 2 yet to come in the Buzzard Hollow anthology.

— William Cocke