Monday, June 25, 2012

Trinomial Bands: Dead Men’s Hollow

Dead Men’s Hollow: Grandma was a Cropduster


I was first introduced to Dead Men’s Hollow in 2005 with their debut album called “Forever True.” About a year later, they released their album called “Two-Timin’.” The band from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. plays Acoustic Americana, roughly defined as old-time, bluegrass, southern gospel and country blues fronted by three-part female harmony vocals and backed by acoustic stringed instruments.

Founded in Arlington, Va., they take their name from an area near there that was dominated by saloons, pawn shops and houses of ill repute in the aftermath of the Civil War. Today, that area is known as Rosslyn, but back then it was called “Dead Men’s Hollow.” To pass through safely, law-abiding citizens traveled in well-armed groups.

On a hot, humid summer day in 2001, Dead Men’s Hollow began as an impromptu backyard jam session. Upon hearing some real potential with their three-part harmonies, the friends decided to form a band.  Original members Belinda Hardesty, Caryn Fox and Mike Clayberg enlisted bass-player Bob Peirce in the fall of 2003. Amy Nazarov (vocals) and Marcy Cochran (fiddle) joined in late-2003, and the band then began seriously gigging.

Nazarov grew up singing madrigals with her folks, on stage and in church choirs, and supplying backup vocals for friends. Peirce has played for 30 years, including stints in classic rock and blues bands. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Hardesty holds a music degree and teaches school.  Cochran is a longtime folk music fan. From New York, Fox is a classically-trained soprano who writes and sings country heartbreakers. Clayberg (guitar, Dobro, mandolin, tenor banjo) played punk rock for 20 years before returning to his Virginia old-time country roots. In true collaborative fashion, each member brings things to the table that make for a convincing, cohesive musical presentation. Their instrumental work isn't flashy, but it has whimsical and expressive folksy charm.

Besides their spirited instrumentation, Dead Men’s Hollow has a harmony-laden signature sound that has built them a legion of fans. They emphasize their charm, effort and playfulness. The band’s vocal harmonies are of special note -- warm, friendly, and a perfect showcase for their earthier side. No doubt influenced by the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” phenomenon, the band clearly has a lot of fun.

On the sampled 2006 album, guest banjo-player Dan Mazer joins them on "Grandma was a Cropduster," "A Tale of the Week," and "Glory Land." The former, written by Bob Peirce, is an imaginative fictional account of a high-flying woman. It enlists the support of Ron Goad on backing vocals.

Since the release of their “Two-Timin’” album, Peirce has apparently moved on to other endeavors, and Jared Creason now fills the shoes on bass. He holds a B.A. with a minor in music from Indiana State University. In September 2010, Dead Men’s Hollow released a new album called “Angels’ Share.”

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