Here's a collection of reviews of our CDs:

Welcome to Nelsonville:
Out With the Kids

The Hollow Trees:
Mommies With Style
The Lovely Mrs. Davis
smAll Ages
Kid's Music that Rocks
Interview at Zoogloble

Review: Welcome to Nelsonville - The Hollow Trees - 12/28/07

The second album from LA's The Hollow Trees is called Welcome to Nelsonville, but I could've sworn it was called Hootenanny. Even if it isn't, it darn well should be, and here's why:

1) There's a song on the album entitled "Hootenanny," so that's, like, a primo reason right there. And if that's not a good enough reason, then
2) It rocks like a hootenanny.

Lead Hollow Trees Gregory Hollow Tree (aka McIlvaine) and Laura Hollow Tree (aka Steenberge) are unashamed fans of old-time folk music and play it with gusto and joy. This is no retro affectation here, this is real, vibrant music for families. The album leads off with a tremendous 1-2 punch, the zippy traditional "Ain't Gonna Rain," with the band trading the verses in rhyme followed by the shuffling "Hootenanny," a McIlvaine original that's an ode to getting together and singing songs -- "We'll sing a slow song that is sweet and sentimental / A boogie-woogie song about a Lincoln Continental / We're gonna have a hootenanny tonight." The two songs set the mood for the rest of the 38-minute set so well, casting a good-natured glow on the rest of the songs.

From there the album moves into old kids' music ("Animal Alphabet Song," written and recorded by Alan Mills for Smithsonian Folkways 35 years ago), silliness ("To Morrow," taking the "silly song" slot that has been worn out by "I'm My Own Grandpa"), and blues (the snappy "Skoodle Um Skoo"). And, frankly, if the chorus of "Hallelujah's" on the traditional "George Washington" ("George Washington's a nice young man / A lie he'd never tell / But when he chopped the cherry tree / His father gave him / Hallelujah...") don't set your toes (or heels) a-tappin' and your voice to sing along, then I don't know what to do with you. Interspersed with nifty little instrumental breaks, it's my favorite song on the album.

If the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the heights of the five or six tracks, that's no knock -- it'd be hard to keep up that much momentum. As with any hootenanny, eventually the energy level is (deliberately) scaled back a bit, which perhaps will make it a little easier for the wee ones to understand the occasional references to the Hollow Tree world -- listen to "The Nelsonville American Historical Band" for McIlvaine's attempt to create his own Sgt. Pepper's-meets-a-much-less-dysfunctional-Yoknapatawpha-County. While the mythmaking doesn't really add much to the CD (I suspect it's probably better live), they certainly don't detract from it, either.

The songs here are going to be of most interest to kids ages 3 through 7, though it's an all-ages album in the best tradition of folk music. Listen to three full tracks here or hear samples at the album's CDBaby page.

Welcome to Nelsonville is a tremendously entertaining hootenanny. It's on my shortlist of best kids' folk albums of 2008 (yes, it's early, and, no, I don't envision many being any better than this), but I think a lot of listeners would find this a, well, hoot and a half. Definitely recommended.


The Hollow Trees’ “Welcome To Nelsonville”

What a great introduction to bluegrass for any child! We wanted to grab our partners and take them for a spin around the dance floor as we listened to this knee-slapping hootenanny. Besides being a lot of fun, Welcome to Nelsonville showcases a wide variety of instruments and is the perfect way to begin discussions with your child about the distinctive sounds instruments produce. Banjo, harmonica, the jug, plectrum banjo and harmonica are just a few of the instrumental voices featured.

Our favorite tracks were "Ted the Talking Tree" for its haunting melody and fun theme, and "The Funny Song" because we love the kazoo and laughing. Molli McLlvaine’s voice is sweet and soothing in the final lullaby. Highly recommended! - Karen

Out With The Kids

The Spirit of The Band

On Friday night, the Mrs. and I saw Levon Helm perform at The Electric Factory in Philly. It was one of the most magical musical evenings of my life. To see that man, at age 67, rock out for over 2 hours was a thing of beauty. To hear him and his band perform 7 (!!!!) BAND or BAND-related tunes was, well, there isn't even a word for it.

Helm & his band played "Rag Mama Rag", "Long Black Veil", "Chest Fever", "Ophelia", "Going Back to Memphis", and "Tears of Rage" along with a beautiful rendition of Springsteen's "Atlantic City" - all sounding fantastic. But it was the song that ended the night that got the whole crowd signing, swaying and leaping for joy while getting this writer teary-eyed and that was "The Weight". Never in a million years did I think I would hear Levon Helm singing "The Weight" (or any BAND song for that matter) yet there I was a mere 25 feet away from a legend singing one of the most famous songs in rock-n-roll history. Sweet Jesus what a perfect evening. I can't wait to attend one of his midnight rambles in Woodstock, NY.

On the way home, I got to thinking, what would The Band sound like today if they were making kiddie music? Well, I imagine they wouldn't be too far removed from the kind of music The Hollow Trees are making right now. This L.A. collective are straight ahead Americana/Traditional in form and 100% fun in nature. Their new record "Welcome to Nelsonville" is a foot-stomping good time from start to finish and is littered with a couple brilliant gems. "Welcome to Nelsonville" is a record of predomintely original tunes including the rollicking "Hootenany", which the Bear excitedly sings along to, "Ray's Music Shop" which reminds me why mom-and-pop businesses regardless of the industry they occupy are always better, and "The Nelsonville American Historical Band" - each one an excellent example of down-home country-fried goodness modern-sounding enough for even the hippest East Coast urban kids and their parents. Additionally, the track "To Morrow", while not a Hollow Tree original, is one of the most clever tunes I've ever head.

The Hollow Trees music is sweet and refreshing like an ice cold glass of lemonade on the front porch on a mid-summer day. In short, I cannot recommend The Hollow Trees' "Welcome to Nelsonville" enough.

Posted by Jeff - OWTK at 11:35 AM

Mommies with Style - 3/8/06

A great mix of folk and fun

Imagine sitting around an Irish pub, swinging a beer in your hand, and singing out loud. Now... imagine the kids are there. Clearly, if you're able to do this, you must be listening to The Hollow Trees.

A mix of folk and country, with a little blue grass thrown in, the CD has familiar songs with a bit of a twist... and new songs that are catchy and easy to sing along with. There are songs for every preschooler--animal songs, fishing songs, classics and, well, more obscure classics. And a few originals. Our family favorite is Bunny Hop. No... not that bunny hop, but a fun one you can move to while singing along and NOT feel like a preschool teacher when you sing it. (We were caught singing it in the pediatrician's office a few days ago during our wait!)

Original songs, like the Forest Melody, bring me back to my college days when we would camp around the fire and sing... or attempt to. Again... picture it with the kids.

The Hollow Trees include Greg and Laura, with their band (banjo and snare drum) and friends and family providing back-up vocals and animal sounds. Their first album, self titled The Hollow Trees, includes 17 acoustic songs you will love. Preview the album at CD Baby... and don't be surprised if you start singing Bunny Hop at the pediatrician, too.

The Lovely Mrs. Davis - 4/24/06

The Hollow Trees: Unplugged

When my husband and I played together in a band in college, our band's main "competitor" in our small, culturally-limited college town was Gust, a band so overloaded with synthesizers and effect pedals, no one was really sure if they were good musicians or just good computer programmers. Although we used amps and microphones in our performances, we often joked that we were superior to Gust because we would still be able to play if the power went out.

Around that same time, MTV introduced the show Unplugged, which turned out to be a great way to publicly test the musicianship of some of our favorite 90's artists. Could Nirvana possibly sound as good with just acoustic guitars and percussion? Yessiree. Could Poison sound as good? Not so much.

Unplugged is what came to mind when I first listened to The Hollow Trees. This Americana folk group from Los Angeles is led by Greg McIlvaine (a.k.a. Gregory Hollow Tree) on guitar and vocals and Laura Steenberge (a.k.a. Laura Hollow Tree) on upright bass and vocals. The Hollow Trees can indeed play "unplugged," and they do it incredibly well, without sounding pretentious or weak.

Their self-titled first album was released in December 2005 and introduces several traditional favorites - "Polly Wolly Doodle," "Shoo Fly," and "Jack was Every Inch a Sailor" among the strongest. The album also delivers a handful of original numbers, including the band's theme song, "Nelson," about a mythical forest creature who lives in (of all places) a hollow tree. As the mascot for The Hollow Trees, Nelson likes to gather his forest friends to make music.

A family-friendly folk group with a theme song and a mascot? Musicians using "Gregory Hollow Tree" and "Laura Hollow Tree" as stage names? I know what you're thinking.....Mrs. Davis, this sounds quite unlike some of your other recommendations.

Well, following the advice my husband once gave me when he tried to get me to eat at a sushi restaurant for the first time - try new things, and maybe you'll like new things - I tried this, and I liked it. And the more I listen, the more I like (but I still don't care for sushi). The Hollow Trees are solid musicians who don't take themselves too seriously. They can pull off the theme song and the mascot.

This is fun, rollicking folk music, not the look-at-us-in-our-black-turtlenecks-and-funky-glasses-singing-folk-songs-in-French-and-did-we-mention-we-both-went-to-Brown kind of folk music that Lisa Loeb and Liz Mitchell gave us on Catch the Moon. These songs are mostly upbeat and energetic, with masterful guitar picking and a clear, full sound. The Hollow Trees incorporate enough banjo, percussion, harmonium, and backing vocals to make the music interesting, but not so much that it overwhelms their natural, spontaneous style.

Songs like "Raccoon and Possum" and "Jack was Every Inch a Sailor" highlight the well-balanced guitar-banjo-bass combo, while "Forest Melody" and "Three Jolly Hunstmen" showcase Greg's fantastic guitar-playing. On the final track, "Buckeye Jim," Laura takes a bow to her upright bass and lays down a beautiful, flowing bass line beneath the mellow vocals and guitar.

As you listen to The Hollow Trees, you can tell they are having fun. And if an artist making children's music isn't having fun, they should just hang up their guitar and go back to their accounting job.

smAll Ages - 5/1/06

The Hollow Trees

I've been receiving a a whole bunch of CDs from artists making music for families and most of them are enjoyable and wondrous things. I haven't had a chance to listen to everything yet, but here is one of the very first ones I got. The band is The Hollow Trees, they are from LA and they make lovely classic folk music that appeals to the kiddles and, if you're partial to the banjo, adults as well. I like the banjo. And I like a gal on a stand-up bass and this band has both. Greg is on guitar, Laura is on Bass, love the dress by the by at right (with Rick sometimes on Banjo and Dave on a snare.) They cover many a classic and have a few originals. They play the Atwater Farmer's Market sometimes and that sounds like a nice outting, if you're in that part of the country. They often play at the Los Feliz kids' store Dragonfly DuLou, if you're familar. And finally, they'll be hitting the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest on May 21st. Sounds like a hoot to me. This is quintessential Sunday afternoon outdoor music. They have a CD for sale on their site (and they are available for private events in the LA area, if you're so inclined to have a hoe down for your honey's birthday.)

About two hours south, in San Diego, we have a Sunday Farmer's Market in the Hillcrest area that we like a whole bunch. The band that plays there usually is called the 7th Day Buskers. I love 'em. They are playing to the whole crowd with their banjo, guitar and mandolin renditions of both kids' songs, original stuff and cool covers (Replacements' tunes are almost always performed). Yesterday we went and we sang along to the Cake song, "She Ain't No Good For You" and the classic, "Old MacDonald" plus we ate some of the best apples I've ever tasted and it ain't even apple season really. Good times people. If you're in our neck of the woods I highly reccommend it.

Zoogloble - 5/13/06

The Hollow Trees are a Los Angeles-based band who released their debut self-titled album in December 2005. Led by Greg McIlvaine and Laura Steenberge, the Hollow Trees drew inspiration from Dan Zanes in looking for ways to make family-inclusive music, making Zanes Pete Seeger to their Bruce Springsteen.

The Hollow Trees owes a debt to Zanes in a couple ways. Most noticeably is the inclusion of two songs covered by Zanes on his CDs -- "Polly Wolly Doodle" and the album closer "Buckeye Jim." Less noticeably perhaps, but more importantly, is the feeling of "let's get together and make a CD, and why don't you invite your friends" that permeates the disk. Now, Zanes clearly has more musically famous friends than the Hollow Trees (there's no Sheryl Crow on the Trees' version of "Polly Wolly Doodle." But that doesn't make the Trees' version less fun. Indeed, my favorite cut on the album, their rollicking version of "Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor," sounds like there are about 15 people crammed into a living room with a microphone and would sound just great on a Zanes album. Songs like that, uproarious and boisterous, are where the Hollow Trees shine.

The rest of the album are faithful covers of other folk and bluegrass standards (some more familiar to me, others less so) done with care and competence. The originals (only 4 of the album's 17 tracks) are a mixed bag -- I liked "Forest Melody," which has a very 50's folk-rock sound to it and "Nelson," but found "Bunny Hop" to be a bit repetitive.

Like many folk/bluegrass albums, the notion of age-appropriateness is much less relevant than for other CDs, but I think that kids aged 2 through 7 would like this album the most. You can hear complete tracks from the CD at the Hollow Trees website, as well as order it there or from CDBaby.

The Hollow Trees is a fun album of folk and bluegrass for the entire family. If you don't care at all for folk and bluegrass, this album won't appeal to you. But for the rest of us, we'll enjoy the album just fine. Recommended.

Kid's Music that Rocks! - 5/31/06

***The Hollow Trees***

These guys have definitely done their homework. Or have at least spent countless hours scouring the flea markets of southern California for out-of-print folk albums. Maybe they were lucky enough to have grown up in a household where these kinds of songs wafted through the air during childhood summers. Whatever the case, Los Angeles’ The Hollow Trees have created an album that is a throwback to the classic Pete Seeger/Burl Ives sound, and yet is amazingly fresh and original. Even hoary chestnuts like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “Shoo Fly” totally belong to the Hollow Trees on this CD.

From the opening ring of a banjo on “Raccoon and Possum” to the sad and sonorous draw of a bow across a bass fiddle on “Buckeye Jim”, guitarist Greg McIlvaine and bassist Laura Steenberge (aka Gregory Hollow Tree and Laura Hollow Tree) treat the listener to an amazingly entertaining array of songs. Magnificently played and expertly recorded (in McIlvaine’s home studio, no less), The Hollow Trees’ self-titled debut was released last year on their own Hollow Trees Records. A friend of The Hollow Trees created the cover art, and McIlvaine designed the inner sleeve map that details the location of “Nelson”, a character described in the tune of the same name.

Need a drinking song for toddlers? Why, crank up “Jack was Every Inch a Sailor” and hoist your juice boxes! How about an extremely silly song that’s silly for the sake of silliness? Well, then, try “The Whale Song”, which almost brought a tear to the eye of a coworker, who fondly remembered the nonsensical lyrics from her childhood. Oh, and if you’re looking for the perfect preschool storytime activity song, play their original “Bunny Hop”, it’ll make you smile.

With a reverent but playful nod to the classic folk sound of the late 40s to the early 60s, the Hollow Trees use a combination of old folk tunes, sea shanties, and originals to make a modern day classic. Check it out. Turn it up. Have a hootenanny!

Interview with Zoogloble - 6/28/06

Interview: Greg McIlvaine (The Hollow Trees)

I didn't start playing guitar seriously till I was 16... I remember bringing my guitar out to the living room and playing it for my mom. She said "That's great, but why do you stick your tongue out when you play?" Now I notice that my son sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating.

One of the more unexpected discoveries for me thus far this year was the self-titled debut album by the Los Angeles-based band The Hollow Trees. Inspired by Dan Zanes' recordings and released in late 2005, the album contains spirited renditions of folk songs and other kid-friendly tunes. Greg McIlvaine, guitarist and Hollow Trees co-founder, took time out to answer some questions. Looking for some kids' music recommendations you probably haven't heard before? Then check out the end of the interview.

And thanks to Greg for his time.


What music did you listen to growing up?
I don't remember any kid's music to speak of. I had one of those Fisher Price mechanical record players with the thick colored discs that I played with a lot.

My first musical memory is of a honky tonk band playing during the day at a bar on the beach. The only thing I remember about that was the bass line, the fifths which are traditional in country and polka music. I still love that bass line. Later I remember listening to the Dr. Demento show and thinking that it was the greatest thing ever.

My parents don't play instruments, but my dad is into music and was always buying records and new hi-fi equipment. Once I became more interested in music I began checking out his collection. He had a few records that I really attached myself to - a Josh White record, a Hoyt Axton record from when he was a folk blues singer, a Jimmy Reed record, Muddy Waters at Newport, a Johnny Cash record, an acoustic blues record called Down South Summit Meeting with Lightning Hopkins, Brownie McGee, and Sonny Terry jamming.

Eventually I discovered rockabilly through the Stray Cats and oldies like Elvis and Little Richard. There was a scene in LA which I knew through KROQ, and my favorite band - still to this day - is The Blasters. My dad took me to my first concert at the Country Club in Reseda - The Blasters with the then unsigned Los Lobos opening up. Awesome.

Any particular Dr. Demento favorites?
I really remember thinking that "Shaving Creme" was funny. Also "Existensial Blues" and "Fish Heads."

Did you grow up singing and playing the traditional songs you've recorded on the debut?
Not really. I didn't start playing guitar seriously till I was 16. The first song I learned was "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis. I remember bringing my guitar out to the living room and playing it for my mom. She said "That's great, but why do you stick your tongue out when you play?" Now I notice that my son sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating. I played some folk and country but early on I was more interested in blues, rockabilly and punk.

In college I hosted hootenannies every Sunday for about three years. It wasn't a jam, instead we'd pass one guitar around and people would play their new songs or old hits. I would play "On Top of Spaghetti" and "It's a Small World" for laughs, but now that seems like foreshadowing.

Later I got more in to country music and decided to create myself a repertoire. I began learning lots of standard country songs, moving back in time from Willie Nelson to Hank Williams to Jimmie Rodgers. Eventually that path led me to ballad singers and that was around when The Hollow Trees started.

How did you select those songs (i.e., were they your favorites, your son's favorites, ...)?
In general we try to find great songs which are not as well known so we don't have to rely too much on the songs everyone has heard a million times. We've learned a few of them because they're good for sing-alongs when you're playing live, but I didn't see any reason to record them. The exceptions are "Polly Wolly Doodle" which is one of our signature songs, and "Shoo Fly" which was my son's favorite song for awhile.

I should also mention here that Laura [Steenberge, the band's bassist and co-founder] is an extremely accomplished musician and she really helps with choosing the material and working up the arrangements. We try to pick songs that we really like and have fun playing, and figure that our joy will be passed on to the kids and parents in the audience.

Where did you record the album? It has a very intimate feel and sounds like it could've been recorded in your living room.
Pretty close! It was recorded at home in my office using Adobe Audition software on my PC. I have been doing home recordings since high school, starting with a 4-track, then graduating to a digital 8-track, and now the computer. There's nothing fancy as far as equipment, but the computer does give you a lot of options. Some songs are live, some all overdubs, and some a mix. I try to keep it simple and remember Ray Charles' advice: If it sounds good it is good.

Exactly how many people are singing on the rollicking "Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor"?
I think there's 11 people, but at least 2 tracks of each of them. Laura and I sang on it, and my buddy Matt Welch who sings on several tracks on the record. Then on a couple occasions when we had friends over I would have everyone come upstairs to sing on it. I don't have enough sets of cans (that's what musicians call headphones) for everyone, so I would put one set on myself and play my guitar and kind of conduct everyone. It made for a loose feel which came out nice, especially with my son and his buddy on there.

Which songs are your favorites to play? Which songs draw the most response in concert?
That's a hard one because I really like playing all the songs. We open our shows with "Polly Wolly Doodle." It's a magical song which always makes you a little happier than you were before. "Bunny Hop" is fun because we have the kids come up with different animal sounds. Sometimes they'll say giraffe and we'll have to ask them what a giraffe sounds like. Laura and I switch instruments for "Everybody Has Hands" and that's a big favorite.

Did you have fun writing the originals on the debut, or were those difficult to do?
These particular songs all came pretty easily. "Nelson" and "Forest Melody" describe The Hollow Trees' universe. "Bunny Hop" came from the idea of combining a dance song with an animal sounds song - the perfect storm of children's music!

You mention Dan Zanes as an inspiration for the group; who else recording kids and/or family music inspired you?
Like Dan Zanes I mostly look to older music for material and inspiration. The first kids' music I bought, when my wife was still pregnant, was a used copy of Burl Ives' out of print CD "Chim Chim Cheree and Other Favorites." I thought it was awesome and Burl's voice made every day seem like Christmas. I began getting more of his music and I love it, the old folk ballads especially. "Lavender Cowboy" is a song I learned from one of his non-kid records. For any serious kids' music fan with a record player I would recommend his album called "Animal Folk" on Disney's Buena Vista Records. It's a gatefold with a book of lyrics and illustrations inside. We've learned almost every song on there, including "The Black and White Pigeon" and many others which we haven't recorded.

Besides Burl I like other 60's folk singers like Ed McCurdy, Oscar Brand, Richard Dyer-Bennett, Ella Jenkins, all of the various Seegers. Tom T. Hall's "Country Songs for Children" is a big favorite too. Yazoo Records has a bunch of great compilations of really old recordings, and there's two volumes aimed at children called The Story that the Crow Told Me which are a lot of fun if you like that real old-time music.

What's next for the Hollow Trees and the album?
My wife and I are expecting our second child any day now so we're taking a bit of a break on playing live shows, but we'll be back playing in a couple months. We have quite a few new tunes ready so we'll record again soon. The CD is getting around by word-of-mouth and through great reviews like yours, so it's exciting to watch that. We're having a great time and look forward to more fun musical adventures in the future.

Do you think you'll change the mix to record more original tunes, or do you like the mix of mostly older material with a handful of new tunes?
It will probably be the same kind of mix, depending on the original material we have and how the recordings come out.