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The Black Hollies and The Insomniacs/Maxwell's, Hoboken, N.J./Feb. 17, 2008


The Black Hollies‘ new album contains ditties about changing seasons, flowers and candles, stately, sprawling chateaus, and even odes to ballerinas and (gasp) perishable fruits.

Onstage, they’re not afraid to boast the blazer-and-turtleneck look and, on a given night, multiple ascots. And while quite possibly an homage, their name cops that of a revered ’60s hitmaking group.

It sure sounds like enough ammunition for a cynic to dismiss the band as yet another cliche and unoriginal retro-styled outfit without hearing a note. But beware — once the group plugs in, the self-described “freakbeat” quartet proves its chops and tunes are as carefully crafted as their image.

Celebrating the release of their second indie LP, Casting Shadows, before a robust holiday-weekend crowd at a show scarcely a mile from their home base of Jersey City, the local heroes made a strong case not only for their new disc, but for themselves as a burgeoning band to watch. From the instantly seductive riffs and backbeat of the opening “Paisley Pattern Ground,” The Black Hollies exuded a cool confidence befitting a more established act for the length of their impressive 50-minute set of psychedelia-tinged rock.

Who could blame them? Minus the sitar, organ and tambourine that are sprinkled throughout Casting Shadows, the band had more than enough firepower in the stripped-down setting. Frontman and songwriter Justin Angelo Morey‘s ethereal vocals floated atop the melodic underpinnings of his bass guitar and the understated interplay of guitarists Jon Gonnelli and Herbert Joseph Wiley V. Meanwhile, the hyperkinetic Nick Ferrante‘s dexterous drumming pushed the songs into new dimensions and tempos.

By set’s end, they proved just as adept at airy, dreamy soundtracks to Morey’s vivid imagery (“The Autumn Chateau,” “Whispers Beneath the Willows”) as they were on straight-ahead, garage-flavored nuggets like “If You Won’t Let Go” — which sounded like a lost Zombies composition — and the bluesy rave-up “No Need to be Rude.”

Equally ’60s-centric veterans The Insomniacs preceded The Black Hollies with a well-received offering of their more straight-ahead, guitar-oriented British Invasion stylings. The New Jersey trio worked up quite a sweat while churning out energetic cuts “Maryanne Lightly” and “Anywhere in the World,” as well as a new tune or two. Regrettably, just as they had charged into another gear with the infectious “Switched On,” their set was over, clocking in at less than 40 minutes.

Still, that was more than enough time to show, just as the headliners did, that what’s old is not necessarily new again, but sometimes it can be pretty damn good.

— By George Henn