The Passenger
Oakley Hall: Oakley Hall
By Russ Nelson

In the last few years, a number of barbecue restaurants have opened in New York City, some going so far as to bring in cooks from Texas and wood smokers from Missouri in an attempt to replicate the taste of genuine brisket and ribs. Despite their attempts at authenticity, a pulled-pork sandwich served on Madison Avenue tastes nothing like one made in a road stand. With that in mind, it’s not a backhanded compliment to say that Oakley Hall is the best country music that can be made in New York. It’s the truth.

Oakley Hall is the project that Papa Crazee founded in 2001 after quitting Oneida, one of the best freak-out rock bands of the last six years. Despite his best attempts to replicate the sound of Nashville, his fingers, long-trained in psychedelic guitar licks, betray him. Strains of his past filter through the layers of banjo, fiddle and lap steel like your big city cousin choking on one of mama’s watermelon pickles. But this inevitable tension is a good thing: for example, the Neu-esque intro on “Color the Shade” reframes the otherwise standard country sound. Unlike Kevin Costner and the western, Crazee breathes life into a dead genre, and his Oneida background lets him take the music in refreshing directions far removed from mainstream country’s current obsession with chest-pounding war cries.

The band is eight-strong and the sound is at times what you would expect to find on your AM dial if you drove across wide expanses of America. That said, Oakley Hall’s self-titled album comes down firmly on the whiskey (rather than religion) side of country music. The songs are full of lonely nights, drunken stumbling and foolish regrets - this is a country album. But it’s not possible to confuse “You Wouldn’t Believe What I’ve Been Up To (Since You’ve Been Gone)” with a pop country song full of desperation and clichés. While the album has only nine songs, there is enough variation and depth to encourage multiple listenings.

Keeping in mind the New York City hipster obsession with all things “white trash” - trucker hats, big belt buckles, mullets, Pabst Blue Ribbon and “Kentucky is for Lovers” t-shirts - one is wary of a Brooklyn stab at old-style country music. But even though Crazee had to switch from guitar to keyboards when he lost a finger in a table saw accident, like a backroom brawler, he and his album Oakley Hall won’t give up the fight.