The Abby Hollander Band is a bluegrass outfit based in Brooklyn, NY. Yes… they have them there.
Abby plays bass, sings lead, and writes most of the band’s material. She’s gone the opposite route of many New York musicians, moving from her native Woodstock to the Big Apple to start a bluegrass career. There she has assembled a trio with Ellery Marshall, a Los Angelean, on banjo, and Jeff Picker from Portland, on guitar.
Together they released a self-titled debut project earlier this year, with Duncan Wickel on fiddle and Chris Maloy on guitar. Five of the eight tracks are Abby’s, performed in a straight ahead bluegrass or swing style, and delivered with Hollander’s clear and convincing voice. As you might expect, she sings without the sort of southern or rural accent that is common in much popular bluegrass and, to her credit, there is no attempt to affect that sound.
Her original compositions follow themes prevalent in contemporary bluegrass, but songs about home here discuss New York as in Green Highway Home, or Darlin’ City, a paean to their New York City home. Builder And The Breaker is a mid-tempo waltz that tells of lovers who seem to occupy opposite spaces on every continuum. Another waltz, Rising Water Line, follows the familiar disaster/tragedy number format, while Loneliness Here gets a bluegrass vibe for this eternal story of a lonely lover left at home to await the other’s return.
Abby includes a couple of bluegrass classics, the ever-popular Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin, which gets a fine, uptempo treatment with a solid push from Marshall and Wickel, and Let The Whole World Talk, a cajun song from JD Miller famously recorded as bluegrass by The Johnson Mountain Boys in 1987. The latter is perhaps the strongest vocal performance on this record, and shows Hollander to be an expressive and agile interpreter of a melody.
In truth, all the singing is first rate, often presented without harmony or with Abby way out front. Her voice is strong, but sensitive – a tough task to accomplish – with a wide range and a lovely tonal character. To call it simple sounds like a knock, but her voice has a purity and a plaintive quality that is very appealing, and suits her original songs and the others she has chosen to present here perfectly.
These tracks were recorded in the same manner as the band generally performs live, absent a mandolin, and sometimes as a trio without fiddle. Unpretentious might be a good description for this first effort from The Abby Hollander Band. Just good songs, minus complicated arrangements or look-at-me solos, dispensed with the most agreeable voice of this promising young artist.
This one’s a keeper. Keep an eye on the Abby Hollander Band.