Holler Choir “Songs Before They Write Themselves”

Independent, 2024

Old tools crafting out contemporary bluegrass-tinged gems.

Holler Choir Album ArtThe album title implies an uncertain fate for songwriters and musicians, what with AI now mimicking human creative endeavours, but thankfully these ten tracks offer reassurance and hope.

Holler Choir are from the emerging Americana and bluegrass hotbed of Asheville, North Carolina. Choir conductor Clint Roberts assembled his rotating cast of additional talent while recording ‘Mountain Air‘, Holler Choir’s widely celebrated 2022 EP. On ‘Songs Before They Write Themselves’, the band joined forces with producer Michael Ashworth and engineer Jason Richmond while the final sound recording was mastered by Kim Rosen. The authentic sound might also have something to do with the whole album being tracked in the converted chapel of Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Asheville.

Victory Lap Media describes ‘Songs Before They Write Themselves’ as a record at the crossroads of the past, present and future. There is a timeless feel to the album while Roberts sings his songs, with familiar themes of heartbreak and melancholy while other songs question the big scheme of things. “Cause I’ve had one foot out from the moment I could stand/ From where I sit, I don’t see a greater plan/ Maybe he just never had one or he’s simply just washed his hands” Roberts sings on the track ‘Summersville’. Holler Choir also manage to sound that bit different. The lyrics are beautifully crafted and it does help when the music is so exceptionally played.

‘One Less Lie’ kicks off the proceedings and instantly introduces the talent of Helena Rose on banjo, Bridger Dunnagan on fiddle and upright bassist Norbert McGettigan. The next track is a personal favourite called ‘Fair Weather Lover’. It is enhanced by Rose’s harmony vocals accompanying some fine lines: “but sunny days are numbered/ And we both know what you’ll do/ When a storm blows in, the good times leave/ And with them, so will you.”

‘Hard Pill’ and ‘Darlene’ have been released as singles. Both have thought-provoking lyrics and clever instrumental bridges. Another single ‘Hamlet Blues’ is a jaunty track that once again showcases the assembled talent. Nirvana have lent themselves to bluegrass before – Sturgill Simpson did a magnificent version of  ‘In Bloom’ back in 2016. On this album Holler Choir have chosen to include a cover of ‘Heart Shaped Box’. What you think would be a challenging track to justify turns out to be one of the most exciting on the album.

‘This Skin’ is an uplifting song that Liam O Maonlai would be proud of. Sadly the barking dog has not been name-checked in the liner notes.  ‘Ain’t Too Soon’ closes the track list far too soon, a traditional barroom retrospective with some glorious lines: “Well, a bar stool’s better than a pew I find/ If you’re looking for God and some piece of mind/ But if you really want God, best call him on a hardwood floor.”

Maybe AI can mimic and generate some human endeavours but there’s no algorithm out there that can produce such songs and musicianship soaked in human spirit. This young band are indeed at the crossroads of the past, present and future. Holler Choir have songs worth listening to now.



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