Frog Holler

Railings

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When the late jazz/rock critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote the liner notes to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in 1969, he asserted that the album's approach was neither better nor worse than the trumpeter's older work -- only different. And the same type of thing can be said about Railings, which is Frog Holler's third album for Record Cellar and fourth overall. Produced by Edan Cohen in Philadelphia, this 2003 release is a bit of a departure from the band's previous Record Cellar albums Idiots and Adams Hotel Road; however, it's equally rewarding in its own way. This time, the playing is leaner, sparser, and more subdued -- and lyrically, it is more consistently dark and melancholy than the band's previous albums. That isn't to say that lead singer Darren Schlappich didn't write any melancholy songs for Idiots and Adams Hotel Road; not everything on those albums was cheerful, but there was some spring and summer to go with the winter and late autumn -- there were hell-raising, barn-burning, feel-good gems like "Pennsylvania," Frog Holler's passionate ode to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Railings, however, doesn't contain anything that sunny. But if this CD is Frog Holler's most world-weary project -- at least in 2003 -- it is also an album of beauty. Schlappich really bears his soul on these reflective, contemplative songs, most of which he wrote himself -- and his lyrics often describe the challenges of being working-class in a country that worships status and materialism. Some admirers of Idiots and Adams Hotel Road might wish that Railings wasn't so consistently bleak -- that Schlappich offered at least the occasional rays of sunlight to break up the darkness. But Railings is great the way it is, and Schlappich has every reason to be proud of this moving, heartfelt addition to Frog Holler's catalog.

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