Holler: An Appalachian Tragedy (original workshop recording).
Maineland Productions/Bandcamp, 2014.
I’m fairly certain that this is a first for Ear to the Ground- a review of a soundtrack, written for a play inspired by Shakespeare.
Oh, good, you didn’t run away screaming. Once you stop laughing, I think you’ll enjoy this little musical piece.
Maineland Productions brings a new twist to the Bard’s Macbeth, by setting it in a fantastical version of Appalachia and bringing in the sounds of a traditional shindig band (mando, washboard, banjo, fiddle, e.g.). The combination of classical literature and backwoods Americana might sound absolute absurd, but nicely illustrates the universality of some themes. Trust, loyalty to clan, and betrayal are common story lines throughout all human history, and grudges and revenge appear not only in tales of kings and courts but feature prominently in America’s own Hatfield’s and McCoy-style historic feuds. Honestly, much of Appalachian folk song and story traditions could easily pass as a newer retelling of English penny-ballads or the plays of the Globe theater, and admittedly those are even repackaged stories going back to the second century in some cases. As much as humans change, we seem to stay the same across time.
Granted, this retelling might not sound any more modern to our ears than Appalachian folk would have sounded to those sixteenth-century theater-goers, but all three groups know the emotions that are talked of Holler and Macbeth. While we might associate the source material for Holler with royal courts and theaters, kings and queens, it’s important to remember that Shakespeare was not so high-browed as we are often taught in high school, incorporating jokes and references that give more than a nod the common folk who saw his plays as entertainment and an escape; the Bard wrote stories that were very “folk” and the music accompanying his plays would have reflected this. In that vein, Holler is more obviously “of the people” with its twang and plucks that we associate with back porch players, but who knows how it will sound to humans another few hundred years?
For the album itself, the music is technically solid and well produced. It’s a joy to listen to and contemplate the meaning of folk and how us folk have changed over the years, but it’s also a beautifully arranged and performed by talented players. The string work is diverse and works together well to set a scaffold over which vocals and less prominent instruments fill out a beautiful tapestry of sound. The story isn’t fully told in the music, it’s missing movements, scenery, and spoken parts, but that doesn’t stop the message from coming across. If anything, I personally like having to fill in parts of the story and the freedom to let my mind cast everything but the music reminds me of early radio shows- yet another variation in the long history of communication meant to keep folks entertained.
Check out this soundtrack, whether for the music itself or the bigger questions that are highlighted by such a juxtaposition. Either way, you’re in for a delight.
Personnel: Jillie Mae Eddy (lead vocals, mandolin, kick drum, tambourine), Nate Houran (lead vocals, washboard), Nick Buonaiuto (background vocals, guitar, banjo), Andrew Patterson (background vocals, upright bass), Sam Schuth (fiddle)
Tracks:Death of King Henry, King of the Holler, Lady and the Devil, Codone and the Corn, Greenwood Side, Murder Ballad, Death of Queen Jane, Long Road Down, King of the Holler (Reprise), BONUS TRACK: Long Road Down (Acoustic), BONUS TRACK: Nobody’s Baby (Demo)