Sing Out! Magazine Review - CHAOS & CALM
by Rick Warren
Kelly and Donna Mulhollan weave an intoxicating spell with Chaos & Calm. Although the quartet Still on the Hill has become a duet, the music is more powerful and entrancing than ever. The duo shares the writing, singing, and producing duties, creating innovative songs in subject and sound. In this entirely acoustic production, Mulhollan plays guitar, mandolin banjo, autoharp, harmonica, pump organ and various homemade percussion instruments. Donna plays fiddle with great versatility, even evoking birdcalls. This magical combination results in a rich, enchanting texture that sets them far from and above the common duo arrangements.
The songs tell unusual tales, from the conflict between new and traditional bluegrass embodied as a crow and a scarecrow in “Scarecrow”, to Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived atop a redwood tree to prevent the destruction of its old-growth forest in “Beautiful Butterfly.” That song feels a lot like the traditional “The Cuckoo.” “Could I Borrow That Arrow,” inspired by the death of Townes Van Zandt, explores the question of whether one needs to suffer to make art. “River Red” based on a supposedly true story is about an Ozarks character who used to hoist up his bed on ropes when the river by his cabin flooded. Honna sings her adaptation of the traditional Japanese folktale of the “Crane Wife.” “Sleepless” rather than a love song, is a humorous tribute to all the insomniacs in the world. Kelly sets fragments of poems by Dunbar, Wallace Stevens and Native Americans to music in “Words On Birds,” and he bases “Dance Song” on an ancient Moroccan poem.
The creativity and originality of these two blows through the stale air of singer-songwriters like a gale of genius.