A review by
PORT HARDY—Feel free to label Woody Holler a singing cowboy, if you wish. Just be aware his range extends far beyond the traditional cow-punching prairies of North America to encompass Hungarian dancehalls, the cobbled streets of Naples, Italy, the French Quarter of New Orleans and the entire swath of Mexican border towns.
“We’re gonna end the evening with this old country tune,” Holler told the North Island Concert Society audience during Saturday’s show at the Civic Centre, “as it’s from the old country.”
He and his bandmates then launched into O Sole Mio, the instantly recognizable Italian standard that seems better suited for an opera house than a Western barn dance.
On the other hand, Woody Holler and his Orchestra hardly ignored the crooning cowpoke during a wide-ranging and well-received show.
Holler is the stage persona of Manitoba-based singer Darryl Brunger, a classically trained opera performer, when he joins with his ‘orchestra’ to play the country swing favourites he grew up listening to.
Like Brunger himself, bandmates Greg Lowe (guitar), Richard Moody (violin) and Daniel Koulack (double bass) are pros trained in classical and/or jazz style. Saturday in Port Hardy, they unleashed that considerable aural arsenal on an audience that was, by turns, delighted, surprised and, in the end, won over by the hybrid mix of country, jazz, folk and flamenco.
At nearly every NICS event there is a clear moment when the band and the audience connect, and this was no different. The surprise was how it happened. After receiving polite applause for the traditional country-swing of Give Me a Pony and the Open Prairie, the smooth jazz of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose and the Spanish strains of South of the Border, Holler and his Orchestra launched into Grenada, an aria penned by Mexican composer Agustin Lara and sung in Spanish by Holler to the sublime accompaniment of Moody’s violin.
The polite applause converted to whoops, whistles and loud cheers, and Holler was quick to capitalize on the momentum with a spirited take of Ghost Riders in the Sky. At that point, the night was won.
Though few of us harken back to the era, an evening with Woody Holler and his Orchestra seems akin to what it must have been like for a family to gather around the radio in the 1930s and 40s. Saturday’s repertoire included such standards as Sweet Georgia Brown, You Belong To Me, Don’t Fence Me In (an audience participation number), Red River Valley, and Holler’s inimitable yodelling, country-swing take of George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh, Lady Be Good!
But, thanks to their virtuosity, craftsmanship and improvisational chops, Woody Holler and his Orchestra never sound like a cover band. Even Patsy Cline’s If I Could Only Stay Asleep and Jimmie Rodgers’ Treasures Untold are given original treatment.
“I heard songs tonight I don’t think I’ve heard in 50 years,” one man said to Holler as the singer was autographing copies of his group’s 2010 release, Western Skies. Both men smiled.
And they weren’t alone.
The NICS concert series wraps up April 20 with the annual dinner show featuring the one-man variety show of comedian Robert Post. Tickets are advance sale only, in Port Hardy at Cafe Guido, For Scrap’s Sake and Port Hardy Museum; in Port McNeill at The Flower Shoppe; and in Port Alice by calling Gail Neely at 250-284-3927.
More info is available at www.niconcert.ca.