Dark Moon Hollow Fills Musical Space On New Album in "Difficult Times"
Written by Renee Collins Cobb, M.Ed. and Warren Cobb, B.A.
Lexington, KY Based Band Dark Moon Hollow Release Their Album on Halloween 2020 Artwork by Snowzilla Arts
The best of Kentucky singer/songwriters seem to know how to structure their presentation- either live on stage, through the airwaves, or via a platform- with an appropriate ability to both capture the listener’s attention and to modulate their cognitive and affective state simultaneously at the same time without the listener even being aware.
In what many can describe, with great confidence, as being both a challenging and "scary" year in 2020 - Halloween, a holiday most ordinarily ushering in fun, scary movies, costumes and MUSIC, lots of MUSIC- became yet another fun and joyous opportunity both affected and somewhat compromised by restrictions, mandates and guidelines due to the Covid-19 world in which we live.
Yet during this time, a band chose triumph over disappointment, victory over defeat and faith over fear in making the decision to not only record their debut album during a pandemic but more courageously, dropping the album on the most fun and imaginative of holidays - Halloween - leaving us with a delicious assortment of Musical "Treats" and "Tricky" Time Meters in the form of some creative and clever syncopation and driving rhythms all throughout the album.
These are indeed..."Difficult Times". And difficult times call for difficult measures that the most successful of bands and solo artists in Kentucky have engaged as a super power - to push through the pain, the conditions, the challenges, the stress and the struggle to remain present, producing and relevant. For when an artist most realizes that HOW we react to all of the WHAT we are reacting to during this time - we discover WHY we do all of WHAT we do and HOW important the decisions and choices we make in life come to the surface as words on a piece of paper and notes on a staff.
“When words fail, music speaks” --Hans Christian Anderson
Music has spoken - loud and clear - on this debut presentation of all that is great about Lexington, KY based band- Dark Moon Hollow.
Produced at Sneak Attack (another great Halloween reference I find delightfully ironic in this story) by 2020 Lexington Music Award Winning Sound Engineer- the great Jason Groves - this musical "treat" to fans in Kentucky and beyond can be boldly described “one great musical thrill ride- its lyrical content "frightening” but it's instrumental contributions "thrilling" providing a perfect trifecta in the blending of musicianship, harmonies and driving complex beats. It is everything one who chooses to engage in both the risk and time commitment to take such a ride exits the story feeling exhilarated when it is over – yet has all of us who take that risk and spend the time- "screaming" for more.
If I were to name this thrill ride or this scary movie, I might title it "When Valentine's Met Halloween" - Take this ride with me and I will tell you all of the reasons why as I tend to see and dive deep into what is happening in the lyrics and music of several songs on a CD that might not be noticed by others and I am totally and completely OK with all of that. However, when one does make proactive choice to not ride along or if we do not open our minds to all of the possibilities that exist to open our hearts to new things and our ears to new aspects of the listening experience- we may miss out. Come with me on this thrill ride and allow me the opportunity to tell you why I think this album by Dark Moon Hollow is SO incredibly special and why I think it provides context for us to not only learn from our own inner selves on how we not only address relationships in the future but also how we might to utilize music as a mechanism for feeding our own souls during these "difficult times" to emerge happy, victorious and fulfilled in life going forward.
“I love you more than words can say...I hope one day you will say it back"
In the opening track, "A Call from Home" - an intriguing twenty-eight seconds of a recorded returned phone message and request for a call back sets the stage for an apology song “Fell Out”. This is where Dark Moon Hollow takes us through the "turnstiles" of our rollercoaster as we approach getting in the seat - capturing immediate interest with the wonderful lead vocals of Trigger Trey, who is accompanied by a band of musical brothers serving up very complex and intricate instrumentation. These instrumentalists - all independently competent in their own individual right - present with classical fugue-like themes infused with all things that make this a “classic” bluegrass anthem. Syncopated rhythms between instruments make this one feel very interactive with the supporting characters of the mandolin, played by Riley Logan, the banjo played by Thomas Keathley, the bass played by Sean First, and the steel pedal played by Tom Hnatow- adds a special flavor to the musical mix. All of this complimented by the rhythm and lead guitar playing of Brett Horton and Trey, who both provide lead vocals as well.
Trigger Trey sings lead vocals and plays lead guitar for Dark Moon Hollow
Photography by Warren Cobb
Folks, this is good ole fashioned “courtin' music” – opening up with an apology to the one we love. This one has all of the elements of a great opening song – An apology and an invitation for better times with a conversation happening between mandolin and banjo ending in a proclamation of “I love you more than words can say” – so this band says it with the mandolin and banjo instead with a real musical conversation opening the door for another invitation – to come a little closer…..and I like it!
We are now in the seat of the ride with our seatbelt secured and tight. Next we start to climb that first hill and snuggle up next to and close to the one we love.
“Come a little closer Little Lady...for my heart still beats for you”
"Little Lady", is an invitation to dance and the first time on the album, again featuring lead vocals by Trey backed up by some of the regions best instrumentalists in Horton on rhythm guitar, Logan on Mandolin, Thomas Keathley on banjo, and First on bass. The relationship rollercoaster continues to move on the long journey up the hill with with the one we love. Stylistically, this one introduces a characteristic Bakersfield sound with a syncopated beat which appropriately captures the feelings of vulnerability and awkwardness that accompanies an invitation to “come a little closer – for my heart- it beats for you"! A fun, reflective invitation and continuation of the conversation with the banjo and the mandolin making this one a most intriguing climb to the top of this relationship mountain as we approach our first big fall.
Brett Horton, Lead Singer and Guitarist for Dark Moon Hollow - Photography by Dave Parrish
“One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready – six pack to go”
Uh-oh…What happened? In "Drinking Again" we experience not only our first appearance of Brett Horton, with well respected, honored and high energy lead vocals, but we also experience our first breakdown on this album introducing the next leg of our journey, which I felt were made up of a set of the next four tracks from "Drinking Again" leading to the breakup that emerges in “Door without a Handle”.
"Drinking Again" sews together a fast paced string of many words in lightening fast speed accompanied by contrapuntal instrumentation reflecting the turmoil of the story which is told in a series of phrases that require the listener to both hold on for dear life, while attempting to properly reflect on the magnitude of the situation and properly bridges us to the less tumultuous portion of the ride, allowing us to catch our breath and pop out the snacks called “7 UPS and Secrets”
“if you want to know how the story ends- you will probably have to ask one of my friends."
So let’s go there…
"7Ups and Secrets" has been my favorite Dark Moon Hollow song since they performed it on my radio show and podcast Overtones a few years ago. I think I have enjoyed it most in this context because it tells the most well-known chapter of a relationship story and is authored through the most compelling vocals of Brett Horton and the acted out through banjo playing of Thomas Keathley
"I never thought I’d be the butt of all your jokes. Mixes of vodka with 7 up and secrets, with bad intentions and a splash of Cherry Coke."
So as I attempted to assign this musical dialogue with some kind of meaning - I gave the role of "7UP" to lead singers story, the "secrets" are being played out from the other character in the story, the "bad intentions" are the played by the guitar and bass and the banjo is the "splash of Cherry Coke" as Thomas Keathley, who I feel is one of the best banjo players in this region, cuts totally loose in this solo display of style that makes this one the one we will remember most on the Dark Moon Hollow's first album.
Thomas Keathley Plays Banjo for Dark Moon Hollow - Photography by Warren Cobb
"Her heart is like a door without a handle. She ain’t gonna let nobody in. I think she just might…keep it locked up tight...Till the end"
The pavement of good intentions, right? In "Door Without a Handle" -we see the emergence of introspective negative self-talk as Dark Moon Hollow guides us to the next phase of this rollercoaster ride we call relationships- a period of reflection and realization of the journey that shows up most in the next set of tracks from this one to "Cold Morning" For now, we are realizing the door is not only closing, locked and the protagonist is the only one with the key. But the handle has been removed, making the key to be a most ineffective tool in all attempts to unlock the heart.
"Cause, someone hurt her a long time ago, everybody knows that it was me"
Instrumental themes of agitation, frustration and determination accompany this agonizing heart-breaking of a breakdown - where all instruments play their parts in telling the story. The mandolin work reflects a nagging, persistent and steady knocking on the door accompanied providing the background to the negative self-talk in the lyrics that fully engages all of the "panic" involved when one is locked out, the "pain" involved in the refusal of the door to open, and the "persistence" involved in trying to figure out how one finds the entry back into the door…or in this case…into the heart.
"I'm the only one with the key and it’s all that I’ve got to give all that I have now that you’re no longer around"
In "Cold Again", we are now definitively exiting off the rollercoaster and it is now time for a long walk- taking in all that nature has blessed us with in a less frantic slower country style ballad laced with all kinds of musical alliteration that unintentionally requires we slow down, take a breather, pause and just reflect. This song takes us through a walk through the woods on a fall day leading into winter, with Horton's heart-felt soulful lead vocal accompanied by the presence of a support team in the wonderful and well orchestrated harmonies. Also, the presence of the 6/8 time meter, a less difficult time, only serves punctuates the necessity to slow down, pause and reflect on the impact of a relationship gone wrong and what it now means going forward.
Sean First of Dark Moon Hollow - Photography by Sarah Caudill
"There are no words" (no really there are no words).
"Fully Torqued" is an instrumental piece that has its title grounded in two words- Fully and Torqued. Since the word torqued represents a "force's tendency to produce rotation around an axis, which produces the moment of a turning or twisting force" (Merriam Dictionary) - Is there any better title for a song in this place on this album that represents the twists and turns we have been discussing on the relationship rollercoaster of life?
It is utter brilliance and musical genius of Dark Moon Hollow in taking life circumstance and translating it to an instrumental masterpiece. Have I also mentioned how much I personally love bluegrass instrumental works of art? This is musically sound and and optimistic delight that for all fans of bluegrass -which at this point in the story - is asking and requiring of all of us to lighten up and see the bright side of our own lives and in the glory in the nature that is present all around us. One single instrumental theme that is marvelously and joyfully tossed like a hot potato from one instrument to another in a way that has the capacity and ability to open our eyes to new possibilities and a possibly gain a new perspective on life.
“If I find those keys I gave you in the mailbox – then I guess that means we both have had enough…..”
In the "Mailbox" we find the convergence of both reality and Bakersfield making its triumphant return in this story since we last heard it in the early track of “Little Lady” -but this time with a more definitive proclamation to just call an end to this relationship madness while voicing a compelling plea for the other person, who continues to “hang around” to do the same. A fun, riveting “excuse” in a song to provide lyrical context for what is really being constructed and taken in by the musical brain and that is this – a mind-blowing showcase of all of the instrumental wonder that exists and remains present in Dark Moon Hollow’s ability to just lay it all out there for its fanbase as well as accomplish the recruitment of some new listeners. All of this has happened to this point and will continue to happen as a result of the genius in their lyrics, their instrumentation, their vocal harmonies and ultimately - their choice in sound engineering with Jason Groves, who has so done so well in unleashing the potential and capturing the essence of who they are by threading the needle and sewing all of these themes so seamlessly together in such a musical and magic.
“I need you more than anything I’m gonna do”
In "I Need You", we experience one last plea while most likely recollecting those moments in life where we have begged for, wished for and fought for the life we know is not intended to be and also continue in a state that is less than we deserve. This one showcases some beautiful, raw and genuine harmonies and phrasing which is once again providing the forefront for the amazing talent of instrumentalists who call Dark Moon Hollow their musical home.
"I cut you loose about a month a go...I cut you loose...why I don't know."
"A Fish Named Dwight" the final chapter of this story, told through the vocals of Trey once again, represents that "well at least I got to keep the pets" moment in our final resolve to move on and this one features a form of what I refer to as "lyrical dissonance" in which the brain hears some really sad lyrics accompanied by a really happy tune and this one ends not only the song, but the entire album with a great harmonic chord of dissonance that is uncomfortably extended until the chord is resolved in the very last second of the entire recording.
The ride….for this relationship at least….is over.
But the result, Dark Moon Hollow’s debut album, lingers far past this review and that result is now out there on all platforms for all of you lovers of Kentucky Music around the world to review for your own use, to use and reflect on the trajectory of your own life and to finally rejoice and be glad. For we all now have a piece of musical history to preserve, and to enjoy in our own lives, homes and cars, that transcends and carries forth way past the exhilarating experience of seeing them LIVE on stage. It takes great courage to release an album in 2020, with little or only non-traditional ways of promotion available, but this type of bravery enables all of us tap into the path we are taking in the course of our own lives in ways we choose to live as part of the human condition that 2020 has required of us in terms of escape, enjoyment, and respite.
The definition of the word "Hollow" is unfilled space (again Merriam Dictionary). This offering by a true Kentucky treasure has filled that space for me with the ability to appreciate just what we all have – just by living in this amazing state called Kentucky – in bands like Dark Moon Hollow and in studios like Sneak Attack with producers like Jason Groves in feeding our own musical souls and in impacting our ability to own feed others as well as a result.
Renee Cobb and Warren Cobb are the Co-Presidents/Owners of Collins Consulting Group, Listen Locally, LLC and Co-Executive Director of Room 17 Productions, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education. She is the former host of Red Barn Radio and radio shows titled "Overtones" and “Gray Matters” - a show about unconscious bias” which airs weekly on WLXU, Lexington Community Radio. They are also the project managers for The Sara Holroyd Oral History Project, The History of the UK Cheerleaders Project, The Greg Austin Story and I Am Diversity at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. Renee has also served many years in the organizational effectiveness, diversity/inclusion and human resource development fields. She serves as an executive coach, keynote speaker, organizational consultant, facilitator of change and team development coach.