PDX Beats: Ah Holly Fam’ly

The Ah Holly Fam'ly that plays together in creepy smoke stays together in creepy smoke.

As commonly conceived, there are no more diametrically opposed musical descriptors than “folk” and “classical.”  The former term suggests a populist tradition, one defined by a decentralized mode of gradual, organic growth, whereas the latter connotes formal institutions, rigorous systems of compositional logic  and – especially to self-described folkies – can smack of exclusionary hierarchies and creative dispassion.  Of course, this opposition breaks down under even the most passing scrutiny, as classical composers like Kodaly and Brahms borrowed openly and enthusiastically from their national folk traditions, and folk musicians of all stripes have taken inspiration and structural leads from classical composers and conventions.

Johannes Brahms

Snow White

And then there are bands that demonstrate the fallacy of the classical/folk chasm by effortlessly straddling it with their music.  Bands like Portland octet Ah Holly Fam’ly…well, no, there aren’t really any bands like Ah Holly Fam’ly, whose idiosyncrasies are too genuine to be copied or cribbed.  But they do throw a light on the continuity between folk and classical forms, what with an instrumentation marked by flutes, strings and vocal harmonies that would be just as welcome in chamber concert setting as a certain kind of backyard, campfire-lit sing-along.  Add to that sound echoes of early Disney soundtracks (I can’t hear Ah Holly Fam’ly’s song “EIEIO” without picturing Snow White and the Dwarves whistling it while they work) and the perplexingly gossamer voice of primary songwriter Jeremy Faulkner and you get something like this, a track called “Lucky Peak,”the highpoint (bam!) of their tremendous 2009 album Reservoir which was itself an underheard highlight of the musical year:

You can learn more about Ah Holly Fam’ly (at least part of which – spouses singer/flutist Becky Dawson and the aforemnetioned Jeremy Faulkner – are an actual fam’ly…er, family) and purchase a copy of Reservoir on vinyl or CD at the website of their label Lucky Madison, which is in its own right a Portland institution, having put out notable releases from local bands like Horse Feathers, Alan Singley & Pants Machine, Point Juncture, WA as well as Talkdemonic, the drums-electronics-and-viola project of label head Kevin O’Connor.  But those are other stories for other times…stay tuned, or RSSed, or what-have-you.

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