The Buzz: The Hoolios

Who: The Hoolios — songwriter Jim Carpenter (guitar/vocals), Sandy Allen (mandolin/vocals), Bill Light (guitar/vocals), Ron Lewis (drums/vocals), Mike Palazzolo (bass/vocals), and Mike Derry (accordion, keys, vocals).

Why you should know them: There's an incredible cornucopia of music in our little part of the New England, so is it possible to say one specific band is the best? Possibly. The Hoolios, a roots/Americana band, are world-class; if you saw them at any venue in the country, opening for or sharing a bill with Wilco or Robert Earl Keen or the Radiators ... well, you'd absolutely believe they deserved to be there. With four- and five-part harmonies, exquisite musicality and Carpenter's melodic muse — his songs are a bittersweet blend of Gulf Coast, New Orleans and Southwestern influences that seem a too-die-for blend of Marty Robbins, the subdudes and Townes Van Zandt — the Hoolios are pretty magical.

So ... why aren't they out there? Ahhh ... that's indeed the question. Though these guys have known each other and played in bands together for decades — including the Village Jammers and the Full Dempsey and all sorts of pretzel-like configurations thereof — it's only been in the last year or so that the Hoolios have fermented into this precise unit. And now that they all have day jobs and/or kids and families and are in their 40s and 50s, the reality is that the Hoolios are probably destined to stay a vocational hobby.

But isn't that frustrating? “To be honest, it is a little frustrating for me,” says Carpenter, the bandleader. He's won or placed in songwriting competitions in Chicago, Florida, Wisconsin and Boston, and has over the years carved out a niche in Nashville. “I have this vision of what the music should be and sound like and what I can do with it — but at this point time constraints and life are big parts of the reality.”

On the other hand ...: Carpenter is also grateful for the camaraderie and melodic fellowship. “The good news is, I get to play a lot of the songs I write and I was blessed to happen on a bunch of really talented guys over the years who are willing to be part of this. The reality is that it's probably not gonna go anywhere — we can't just pick up and move to Austin or whatever — but this is a great deal of fun and the guys certainly make it sound good.”

Count the blessings: Allen, who spent most of the '70s playing in and touring with the major label band Free Beer, thinks maybe it's precisely because of the band's place in the space/time continuum that there's total freedom from pressure. “I've been pondering the Hoolios question,” he says. “I've been playing with Jim and a lot of these guys for 14 years now, in one form or another, and one of the advantages of being older and having had some experience in the business: It's not always about glamour and fame and fortune. It's more about having fun and doing something you love and playing with people you really like.

Plus, we get sleepy earlier: “If we're older, well, so is our audience,” Allen says. “We all have different schedules and most of the people who enjoy listening to us can't hang out in the bars till 2 a.m. waiting for us to play. We've all grown together and watched the scene as a passing parade, and sometimes we moan that we're not 20 years younger with another chance. But music is always a crap shoot, and with technology being what it is, we can still get the music out there through the Internet and so forth. So even then, you never know.”

What about the music? How do we hear it? Carpenter says the long-anticipated Hoolios album is for all practical purposes finished. For a variety of reasons, they changed a few tracks and remixed a few songs, but they expect the CD — as yet still untitled — to be out before June. Carpenter says he has three albums of material ready to go in different styles and with different destinations. A producer in Nashville is waiting on some songs, and Carpenter wants to make a pure country record, too. In the meantime, he's grateful for the outlet that is the Hoolios. “There's something about turning 50,” he says. “You've turned a corner and you want to get all this work documented and you want to take advantage of any opportunity. So wherever and however the Hoolios play, that's something to be grateful for on any level.”

— Rick Koster
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