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The Hollyfelds and Three Miles West Friday, May 2, 2008 The Walnut Room
The Hollyfelds are a country band – a fact that co-lead singer Eryn Hoerig made sure to point out. Although this was pretty obvious after the band's first song, Hoerig’s charm was as beguiling as her bluegrass-diva stage presence. Her country-crooning partner, Kate Grigsby, was equally stunning. Both women, dressed in retro-country attire, led their bandmates through a moonshine-inspired tour of twangy Americana classics augmented by similar songs from Saratoga, their latest effort.
Hoerig and Grigsby are easily the Hollyfeld’s greatest assets. One voice is pure West Virginia songbird, while the other fills the bottom register, sweeping as if over amber fields of grain, elevating the group’s earthy sound heavenward. Just as entertaining was the act’s wide-ranging instrumentation, from tenor ukulele to autoharp to banjo and guitar, which added to the down-home flavor of the show. And once the band really got going, it was a non-stop stompfest, with drummer Sam Spitzer making each snare hit snap with gusto.
Such a formidable rhythm made it possible for the bandmembers to differentiate themselves from a bunch of pickers and grinners. Maybe that's what prompted Hoerig to remind us that the Hollyfelds are a bona fide country band. This notion was further driven home by the outfit’s choice of covers, songs by Dolly Parton, Neko Case and Patsy Cline. When Hoerig announced that last one, I clapped – only to discover that I was the only one doing so. “I like the way you think, sir,” said Hoerig, happy to have found someone else who appreciates the classics. As for the Hollyfelds' take on the tune itself – well, let’s just say Patsy would be proud.
Of course, that could also just be the beer talking. Between sets, I had a few cold ones on Three Miles West’s party bus parked outside the Walnut Room. In honor of the release of the band's long-awaited new disc, Dead Reckoning, lead singer Russ Christiansen charted the bus to transport fans to the gig. The band, which actually opened the bill, served up its own unique brand of twang-infused rock. After a year’s hiatus, Christiansen and company came back swinging. "I listen to the Joshua Tree," Christiansen enthused. And sure enough, the harder edge of Three Mile’s songs were smoothed by echo-laden Edge-like guitar flourishes that gave the songs an added depth. Elsewhere, the act did an equally noteworthy job making the lone cover in its set, Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” its own, by adding a good amount of fuzz to the guitars. Rowdy and yet melodic, Three Miles West’s sound is worn and comfortable, like a favorite pair of jeans.
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Sandwiched in between Three Miles West and the Hollyfelds was Kosmos. And the moment the band took the stage, as each member quietly set up his gear like he’d done it a million times before, it was apparent that the group's output would be different from the rough-and-ready music presented by Three Miles West. Indeed, a more reserved approach came through in the music: Kosmos was careful not to overwhelm, letting each song unfold in its own time. With little stage banter, the act let the music speak with songs that were bouncy and fun and at times bordered on dreamy and ethereal, recalling Radiohead with a little Everclear thrown into the mix.
-- Kevin Galaba
Critic's Notebook By the way: That's an autoharp Hoerig’s strumming, not a dulcimer. Random Detail: If, like Hoerig, you've got a tattoo of a bass clef on your shoulder, it either means you're a true fan of music – or you're married to the bass player.