Punkin Holler Boys,
Incan Flutes
(self-produced, 2000)

Don't let the low-budget look fool you; the music puts the lie to the grainy, photocopied CD inserts and hand-scribbled information on the disc. Granted, the opening title track might make you wonder: the "Incan Flutes" sure sound a lot like beer bottles to me. But after the boys have their fun, they get down to some serious singing, picking and fiddling.

Not too serious, mind you. The Punkin Holler Boys seem to be having a grand time, and even when the subject isn't all that upbeat, the music usually is. At times, the songs seem a bit tongue in cheek, as if acknowledging their bluegrass roots but having a little fun at the expense of those roots at the same time.

The Punkin Holler Boys are Ralph Ed Hadley (Ralph Jeffers) on vocals, guitar and mandolin, Spidey Jack Hadley (John Sheets) on vocals, guitar and accordion, and Slim Hadley Jr. (Slim) on vocals, fiddle, guitar, dobrolin and mandolin. The liner notes give no information on who sings what or anything beyond the titles of the tracks, so just relax and listen.

Some of the songs sound archetypal, such as "Lately I've Been Thinking," a "tired-of-bumming-around-on-the-road" song in which the narrator dreams up an alternate reality comprising every clichˇ of domestic bliss -- and then some. "Lay Me Down" is a raucous "prove you really love me with lots of sex" song, with one of the boys suggesting that the demonstration of said proof take place "offstage." "Land That I Come From" is a "family farmer against the Big Corporation" song. It has a driving, appealing rhythm even while the story it tells is interchangeable with a number of songs on the same topic.

"The Reflective Song" is a wicked, outright jab at the navel-gazing self-absorption found in the works of some singer-songwriters, complete with the sound of fingers sliding on guitar strings, deliberately banal lyrics and plaintive whiny vocals. It's perfect.

Some of the songs are just plain strange. "Too Much Prozac" assures that you'll get through the "commemorative days" and "You'll remember the Franklin Mint." (Goody.) I'm convinced that "Sissykins Missykins" is a sweet and silly tribute sung to a cat, and "Deep Blue Sea," featuring a cappella bluegrass gospel harmonies in the beginning, tells the cautionary tale of a boy who has to learn to turn blue before he can join the circus.

My favorite tracks are "Punkin Holler Breakdown," a rousing instrumental where fiddle and accordion hand off to each other, and "Sharp As a Tack." This song tells the story of a lucky prospector with an extra shot of optimism. Even when he's six feet under he knows that "I've been down before and I bounce right back." Talk about a positive attitude!

I have a hunch that this talented trio would be wonderful live, but since they only perform in Indiana at the moment, that's not going to be an option for most people. But you can pick up a copy of Incan Flutes for yourself and enjoy the sound of the Punkin Holler Boys.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 14 December 2001