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Named after Appalachian folksinger Ola Belle Reed, Ollabelle are a Manhattan-based band whose music puts an urban spin on Southern genres like bluegrass, gospel, and country. Despite their rootsy influences, the five bandmates first got together in the decidedly non-rootsy East Village, where a local bar called 9C began holding weekly gospel music sessions during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What began as a side project for six of the bar's patrons -- singer Amy Helm (the daughter of legendary Americana musician Levon Helm), guitarist Fiona McBain, bassist Byron Isaacs, drummer Tony Leone, keyboardist Glenn Patscha, and multi-instrumentalist Jimi Zhivago -- quickly turned into a full-fledged group, with label interest from Sony Music and support from fellow roots revivalist T-Bone Burnett, who produced the band's 2004 debut. Performances at the 2004 Newport Folk Festival and Alison Krauss' Great High Mountain Tour helped drum up support for Ollabelle's self-titled album, as did the resurgence of old-timey Americana music.
For their second album, 2006's Riverside Battle Songs, the band enlisted the help of former Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell, who agreed to co-produce the record. Riverside Battle Songs, like the album before it, featured the band's unique spin on traditional songs, but it also showcased more of their original compositions, which were molded in the style of their influences and recorded without guitarist Jimi Zhivago (who'd left the lineup, thus slimming Ollabelle down to a quintet). The group continued to tour, recording its performances all the while and releasing a strong live album, Before This Time, before heading back into the recording studio for 2011's Neon Blue Bird. ~ Andrew Leahey