Shotgun Holler – Loaded
There’s thoughtfulness here that you won’t find coming out of Nashville. Or anywhere else for that matter. This is music written and recorded completely heedless of fashion and never bowing in mimicked tribute to the genre’s icons. Shotgun Holler shows a startling easy flair for juggling the genre’s musical conventions while enlivening them with a tangible sense of personal risk. Loaded’s eleven songs aren’t edgy, folk-inspired creations. They are uniformly polished to sparkling and recorded with obvious care and consideration. The five members of the band have pursued their craft for many years and it shows.
The opener, “Out in the Parkin’ Lot”, shows off the band’s attention to detail with impressive results. It might surprise some as much as me that Shotgun Holler is able to craft such an affecting song from this subject matter. The band writes about a staple of small town life, high school kids and other locals adopting vacant parking lots as a meeting place, but never sentimentalizes it too much. “I Hope Heaven Has a Holler” is another shockingly moving ballad that doesn’t stereotype rural clichés, but instead humanizes its simple point of view with impressive sensitivity. Fiddle player Alex Benefiel deserves special note for his contributions to this track. Shotgun Holler covers Hank Williams Sr. to great effect on “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”; it’s light-hearted fare in the band’s hands and the good time had by all radiates from the drunken gaiety of the music.
The lighter fare falls away in dramatic fashion on the track “Methamphetamine”. This is a song where a listener’s faith in the opening songs is justified and then some. Shotgun Holler has created a rare thing with this track – the unique and underplayed swirl of lo-fi instrumentation gives the vocals an ideal vehicle for relating easily the album’s darkest and most desperate song. “Methamphetamine” provides listeners with a glimpse into hell – in its own stark and modern fashion, this song has every bit of the unearthly chill heard in bluegrass classics from artists like The Stanley Brothers or Bill Monroe. “Relatively Easy” is another lightly bittersweet and expertly constructed acoustic piece balanced carefully between country and bluegrass. The vocals are exemplary, like elsewhere on the album, and succeed thanks in large part to their steadfast refusal to push the song’s rich lyrical content into melodrama.
“I’ve Got Ramblin’ on My Mind” comes straight out of the band’s traditional playbook and embraces the genre’s tropes with genuine warmth. Moreover, the song’s able to take those some tropes and refurbish them without it sounding like imitation. It’s a further credit to the band’s skill. “Miner’s Grave” and “One Lone Tree” double down even harder on these musical turns towards traditional bluegrass but are infused with the same combination of appealing sonic textures and sharp songwriting that reclaims the genre’s long-standing subject matter for a modern audience.
Shotgun Holler rarely misses in any meaningful way on this debut and the lack of percussion isn’t an obstacle. Instead, the musicians show unparalleled skill in weaving a musical mood that invokes the past while remaining firmly grounded in the present. It promises even brighter days ahead, but for now, we can rejoice that quality Americana is safe in the hands of Shotgun Holler.
8 out of 10 stars.