If there is one thing we can learn from Shawshank Redemption, it is this: we have to either get busy living or get busy dying. Americana trio The Deep Hollow are firmly planted in the former. Through their sophomore record, «Weary Traveller», Micah Walk, Liz Eckert and Dave Littrell dig into this sorrowful life of getting older, longing for a stable home and the sometimes unbearable weight of the open road. Sonically, the band fits somewhere between the pulse of Patty Griffin and John Prine and the adventure of Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow and Brandi Carlile.
With the assist from producer Gary Gordon (Montgomery Gentry, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys), the band shoots for a much grander sound than their 2016 self-titled debut. «I wasn’t totally sold on having a fuller sound. I was a little nervous going in», Walk admits. «I was prepared to do it the way we did the last one. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, but it is a little different than our debut».
Plump cello, violins, and muddy guitar intensify the stories, which are cut from both their personal lives and through the eyes of strangers. «Freedom Street», which features Gordon tapping on a suitcase for some mellow palpitations, is another one of great misery among the bunch, depicting the reality of homelessness and glossed over with considerably charged political and religious overtones.
The trio play off each other quite effectively, often trading songwriting credits, too, and with each honest-to-goodness, off-the-cuff life lesson they share, they bare witness to life’s most critical points. «Real Life» imparts sage advice from an older generation and sets the tone for a sojourn smack dab into the eye of the storm. Much later, «Misplaced Love» further questions the nature of their reality as framed in religion, leaving the listener with even more questions than when the story first started.
The cruelty of life comes to a head on «Anna’s Gone», a somber, string-laden ballad about a green-eyed girl named Anna who commits suicide. «Now, I stay up way too late thinking about what went wrong / And what I could have said to make her see she belonged / And that she wasn’t better off dead», Littrell mourns. It’s a performance that pierces the soul and one you’re not likely able to scrub from your memory.
«How to Make a Living» slides into a similar refrain of heart-torn pain, as the band grapples with the monotony of small town life. «I’ve been working at the lumber yard / But I ain’t fit to do the work that real men are», sings Walk, Eckert and Littrell sweeping in to aid with hard-boiled, tight-knit three-part harmony. «I just stand behind a counter all day long / Trying to figure out where it all went wrong».
The Deep Hollow came together as you might expect. Staples of the local music scene of Springfield, Illinois, Walk, and Littrell has an especially long list of previous credits and musical explorations, from collaborating in other Americana bands to touring extensively in a prog-rock band. Notably, Walk worked on a project with Jamie Candiloro, whose biggest collaborators include Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, and The Eagles, among others. Eckert comes from a predominantly community theatre background, and she did try out for American Idol once and made it all the way to Hollywood. While her star wasn’t catapulted into the stratosphere then, her talents would come of great use around town, leading her to serve as a fill-in for a cover band, a side project of Walk’s. The two would strike an instant chemistry, and the duo formed in 2013.
Sometime later, when Littrell was itching to try out some new tunes he wrote, he turned to the duo ahead of an upcoming show. With no rehearsal, the trio hit the stage and something truly stupendous happened. A smooth blend of three-part harmonies poured out and set the foundation for an already impressive catalog of work together. «That was when we knew what we wanted next», remembers Walk.
It was the song «Devil» that proved to be groundbreaking for them. They submitted it to American Songwriter’s 30th Anniversary Song Contest and ended up winning. «Not to sound jaded or disheartened or anything, but when you apply for a lot of contests for a few years and you maybe make it through a round or something, you almost assume nothing is going to come of it. We were excited to just be a finalist. When we won, it was like holy cow».
They went on to play the «City Winery» to celebrate, performing alongside Jim Lauderdale, Jason Isbell, and John Oates. Then they hunkered down and made their debut record which included the award-winning track. They toured, they grew as songwriters, they developed their relationship as a band and wrote more music.
All that led them here.
«Weary Traveller», recorded in Inside Out Studios in Sparta, Illinois, is not only a grainy snapshot of life but their ever-transforming live performance style, too. «I think that was just the way we were evolving live. We just decided to record the album that way», says Walk. That feeling of being truly, unquestionably alive keeps the album afloat even in the darkest of times.
Heartache is often their primary muse, but they don’t get completely lost in it. There are several moments of clarity, including with such love songs as «Now I See»,«Wide Open Road» and «Hangin’ On». They are well-earned payoffs for all of life’s doom and gloom, allowing the band to fully display the vastness of life itself. Quite simply, The Deep Hollow’s second album shines with catastrophe and hope, suffering and relief, desolation and contentment.