Review: The Hollow Trees - The Hollow Trees

The Hollow Trees are a Los Angeles-based band who released their debut self-titled album in December 2005. Led by Greg McIlvaine and Laura Steenberge, the Hollow Trees drew inspiration from Dan Zanes in looking for ways to make family-inclusive music, making Zanes Pete Seeger to their Bruce Springsteen.

The Hollow Trees owes a debt to Zanes in a couple ways. Most noticeably is the inclusion of two songs covered by Zanes on his CDs -- "Polly Wolly Doodle" and the album closer "Buckeye Jim." Less noticeably perhaps, but more importantly, is the feeling of "let's get together and make a CD, and why don't you invite your friends" that permeates the disk. Now, Zanes clearly has more musically famous friends than the Hollow Trees (there's no Sheryl Crow on the Trees' version of "Polly Wolly Doodle.") But that doesn't make the Trees' version less fun. Indeed, my favorite cut on the album, their rollicking version of "Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor," sounds like there are about 15 people crammed into a living room with a microphone and would sound just great on a Zanes album. Songs like that, uproarious and boisterous, are where the Hollow Trees shine.

The rest of the album are faithful covers of other folk and bluegrass standards (some more familiar to me, others less so) done with care and competence. The originals (only 4 of the album's 17 tracks) are a mixed bag -- I liked "Forest Melody," which has a very 50's folk-rock sound to it and "Nelson," but found "Bunny Hop" to be a bit repetitive.

Like many folk/bluegrass albums, the notion of age-appropriateness is much less relevant than for other CDs, but I think that kids aged 2 through 7 would like this album the most. You can hear complete tracks from the CD at the Hollow Trees website, as well as order it there or from CDBaby.

The Hollow Trees is a fun album of folk and bluegrass for the entire family. If you don't care at all for folk and bluegrass, this album won't appeal to you. But for the rest of us, we'll enjoy the album just fine. Recommended.