Album Notes - Brother Oliver - Well, Hell

Album Notes - Brother Oliver - Well, Hell

September 5, 2019

Brother Oliver is offering a carnival invitation. Location: Well, Hell. "It's a psychedelic circus," Andrew Oliver says of the South Carolina duo’s fourth album. He and younger brother Stephen serve as ring leaders. There are no trapeze artists or tightrope walkers. Instead, the high-wire act is the haunting bouzouki and hovering trumpet. 

The two multi-instrumentalists grew up in Greenville, MI, migrated individually to Greenville, SC, and have spent the latter half of the decade collectively making Brother Oliver their singular life. Chosen in part for its pliability to situations good, bad, and everything in-between, the album title's polysemy encapsulates both the journey the siblings have been on the past four years, and the optimistic equivocality representing the ground on which Brother Oliver stands today. Fittingly, the opening song on Well, Hell is as old as the band itself. After appearing on their 2014 debut Stubborn Fool, the retrofitting "Coffee and a Cigarette" undergoes in 2019 parallels the evolving odyssey the duo has undertaken: grander, deeper, more upbeat, more rocking.

The self-described "psych-folk" band continuously shifts tempos and evocations, as Andrew’s steadfast acoustic guitar provides the backdrop for Stephen’s cosmic mandolin. "The Descent," so aptly named, slowly builds to a tribal groove while easing itself into the abyss. "On a Thursday" wants to rage like it's Saturday night, until the horns signal closing time. "Altars" urges a cautious carpe diem in the modern world. “Culture vs. the Vultures" feels like a fairy tale waltz set in the Middle Ages. 

Throughout Well, Hell the lyrical backdrop is, as Andrew says, “indirectly spiritually driven.” Heaven and hell, light and dark, prophets and altars all feature prominently in the subject matter. But the elder Oliver is not proselytizing, rather ruminating on an inescapable aspect of life, particularly in the Bible Belt where he currently resides. 

If "Coffee and a Cigarette" best represents the band hitherto, the subsequent track fittingly points the way forward. "Going Places/Filling Spaces" is not only the song’s name, but signifies Brother Oliver’s trajectory. Where will it lead? Well, hell. Andrew and Stephen Oliver would surely agree: that’s a good place to be.

Read Erickson's interview with Brother Oliver HERE.