CD Review: Frog Holler 'Believe It or Not'

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Friday, May 29, 2009

FROG HOLLER "Believe It or Not"

Kindred spirits: Avett Brothers, Bottle Rockets, Buddy Miller, King Wilkie

Show: Saturday at Iota. Show starts at 9 p.m. 703-522-8340.

It takes more than mere talent for a musical act to become famous or even semi-famous. It requires the willingness to give up the day job and leave the family for weeks at a time. Frog Holler is one of those bands with more than enough talent but not quite enough sacrifice, and so the sextet remains a secret treasure for those lucky enough to have discovered it on the gigs that don't carry the musicians too far from their home in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.

Frog Holler's new album, "Believe It or Not," is further evidence that lead singer Darren Schlappich is one of the more underrated songwriters in the Americana field. He writes fetching melodies that are stubbornly reluctant to resolve, leading the listener into the lyrics' thicket of ambivalence. You can hide out in "Whiskey Ditch," where the high school kids drink and the hobos hide, but, as he sings on "New Year's Day," that won't "change the patterns."

The songs wouldn't be nearly as effective if Schlappich hadn't kept the core of Frog Holler together for 10 years. The blend of banjo, mandolin and roaring guitar fits the opposite pulls of rural tradition and bohemian invention in the lyrics. The band calls the sound "Pennsylvania-Dutch-Rock," and it's as compelling as it is obscure.

-- Geoffrey Himes

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