OAKLEY HALL Second Guessing (Amish)

I approached “Second Guessing” with some trepidation, not only because of its appalling cover art but also due to the fact that Oakley Hall were formed by former Oneida member Pat Sullivan, a band whose music has disagreed with me in the past.

I shouldn’t have worried; this is great. If The Grateful Dead had recorded a studio album midway between “Aoxomoxoa” and “Workingman’s Dead”, it might’ve sounded a little like this delicious psychedelic country rock stew. Or, alternatively, imagine Drive-By Truckers with even more side-one-of-“Let It Bleed” raunch and girl/boy harmonies that suggest an unschooled Gram ‘n’ Emmylou and, well, here ‘tis.

“Hiway” is a chunky broth of vocal harmonies, electric guitars, fiddles and, for all I know, dim lights and thick smoke. “Eyes, Lock & Steel” and the gnarly “Landlord” sound like gruesomely warped traditional folk fare, “Adalina Roselma Lapage” is a lackadaisical hoedown that makes the Dead connection explicit via the lyric “I had a box of rain / A box of snow”. The title track somehow manages to be quirky, propulsive, endearing, witty and tragic, often simultaneously, and a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Cod’ine” sounds both of a piece with the band’s own work and apart from it, rendered with a solemnity that escapes the rest of the album. The not inaccurately titled “Volume Rambler” arguably captures Oakley Hall at their peak, all alcohol-sodden poetry, badlands misadventure, pealing guitars and inventive, but not indulgent, jamming.

Americana aficionados should hop on board: despite its unpromising pedigree “Second Guessing” is one of the most consistently satisfying albums of 2006.