Shotgun Holler – Loaded
If you listen to Loaded and insist on pegging Shotgun Holler into some hillbilly pigeonhole, that’s your loss. Shotgun Holler’s debut collection goes far beyond the always suspect boundaries of genre and presents listeners with eleven strong songs wrought from life and the heart. The five Midwestern musicians forming the band have a clearly audible chemistry illuminating every track. The musical textures exude a polished confidence that one most often attributes to much older musicians, but those smooth surfaces often contrast dramatically with the dark lyrical content. These light dynamics power much of the band’s songwriting and never strain for effect.
Despite whatever darkness one hears on in their music, there’s a generous helping of sentiment accompanying it. The album’s first song “Out in the Parkin’ Lot”, harkens back to bygone days of youth in small town America where a weekend night hanging out with friends in an empty parking lot seems like the zenith of a good time. Shotgun Holler’s presumed target audience will devour this hook, line, and sinker – not because it’s any fabrication, but because every line is invested with experience lived rather than simply recreated. Their loyalty to tradition comes through in an irrepressible cover of the Hank Williams Sr. classic “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”, but unlike most that cover the country great, Shotgun Holler spares us any overwrought reverence. Any idea that these guys are strict traditionalists is swept aside by the chilling drug narrative “Methamphetamine”. The band’s aching and carefully threaded musical web assumes a darker pallor and deeper complexities than the other songs. Shotgun Holler’s decision to tell the story from a first person point of view brings a horrific intimacy to this dark tale.
“Clovis Johnson’s Old Red GMC” further illustrates how the band’s narrative talents extend in multiple directions while forever working from the same traditional base. There’s a fair amount of humor in the song that, likewise, offers listeners some light-hearted relief following the personal bloodbath of the preceding song. The title “I’ve Got Ramblin’ on My Mind” invokes a number of tropes from bluegrass, country, and blues alike, but Shotgun Holler merely uses that likely resonance as a leaping off point to reclaim tradition for their own uses. It’s another expertly delivered acoustic gem. There’s a light touch of dark humor carrying the chorus of “This Side of the Grass”, but it’s otherwise an immaculately tailored prototypical country/bluegrass lament for the departed. Their songwriting once again grounds so much of the narrative in specific details that it’s difficult for feeling listeners to not establish a connection with this music.
“One Lone Tree” tackles similar thematic concerns from a different angle. The band’s ambition to marry the traditional with the personal is fully realized on tracks like this – it’s a seamless musical and lyrical blend of the familiar and intimate. What sends it over the top, however, and makes it so indelible is the unassuming honesty of their performance and the superb musicianship defining every moment. Shotgun Holler’s Loaded never fails to connect with its intended audience and a number of particularly distinguished songs promise an even brighter future ahead. There’s bravery inherent to any artist embracing such seemingly archaic forms, but Shotgun Holler takes a further step – this collection represents nothing less than a vivid attempt at breathing new life into traditional music they love.
9 out of 10 stars.