Review: Welcome to Nelsonville - The Hollow Trees

WelcomeToNelsonville.jpgThe second album from LA's The Hollow Trees is called Welcome to Nelsonville, but I could've sworn it was called Hootenanny. Even if it isn't, it darn well should be, and here's why:

1) There's a song on the album entitled "Hootenanny," so that's, like, a primo reason right there. And if that's not a good enough reason, then
2) It rocks like a hootenanny.

Lead Hollow Trees Gregory Hollow Tree (aka McIlvaine) and Laura Hollow Tree (aka Steenberge) are unashamed fans of old-time folk music and play it with gusto and joy. This is no retro affectation here, this is real, vibrant music for families. The album leads off with a tremendous 1-2 punch, the zippy traditional "Ain't Gonna Rain," with the band trading the verses in rhyme followed by the shuffling "Hootenanny," a McIlvaine original that's an ode to getting together and singing songs -- "We'll sing a slow song that is sweet and sentimental / A boogie-woogie song about a Lincoln Continental / We're gonna have a hootenanny tonight." The two songs set the mood for the rest of the 38-minute set so well, casting a good-natured glow on the rest of the songs.

From there the album moves into old kids' music ("Animal Alphabet Song," written and recorded by Alan Mills for Smithsonian Folkways 35 years ago), silliness ("To Morrow," taking the "silly song" slot that has been worn out by "I'm My Own Grandpa"), and blues (the snappy "Skoodle Um Skoo"). And, frankly, if the chorus of "Hallelujah's" on the traditional "George Washington" ("George Washington's a nice young man / A lie he'd never tell / But when he chopped the cherry tree / His father gave him / Hallelujah...") don't set your toes (or heels) a-tappin' and your voice to sing along, then I don't know what to do with you. Interspersed with nifty little instrumental breaks, it's my favorite song on the album.

If the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the heights of the five or six tracks, that's no knock -- it'd be hard to keep up that much momentum. As with any hootenanny, eventually the energy level is (deliberately) scaled back a bit, which perhaps will make it a little easier for the wee ones to understand the occasional references to the Hollow Tree world -- listen to "The Nelsonville American Historical Band" for McIlvaine's attempt to create his own Sgt. Pepper's-meets-a-much-less-dysfunctional-Yoknapatawpha-County. While the mythmaking doesn't really add much to the CD (I suspect it's probably better live), they certainly don't detract from it, either.

The songs here are going to be of most interest to kids ages 3 through 7, though it's an all-ages album in the best tradition of folk music. Listen to three full tracks here or hear samples at the album's CDBaby page.

Welcome to Nelsonville is a tremendously entertaining hootenanny. It's on my shortlist of best kids' folk albums of 2008 (yes, it's early, and, no, I don't envision many being any better than this), but I think a lot of listeners would find this a, well, hoot and a half. Definitely recommended.