Keeping a Record of it
Review by Kent Manthie
Here’s one that needs to get into your music collection: the just-released follow-up to Holley’s debut, Just Before Music. Keeping a Record of it features tracks recorded in 2006, 2010 and 2011. Cole Alexander, from the Black Lips and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter both lent their musical chops to this album.
I wasn’t sure what to expect before I listened to Keeping a Record of it for the first time, not being familiar with Holley. I pulled it up, started it up and listened to it, with a puzzled feeling. I liked what I was hearing, but I just didn’t know what you’d call it. That doesn’t matter anyhow, because the best bands/artists don’t let themselves get put in a box. Think of Neil Young to see what I mean, or the diversity of styles and sounds that Bowie pulled off, up until his last great album, at least, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). So, actually, this no-genre style that Lonnie Holley had going was a plus to me. I always am impressed by artists/bands who aren’t derivative and don’t purposely (consciously or otherwise) try to sound like all the other bands who are in vogue at the time.
Anyway, getting back to the album at hand, Keeping a Record of it has an earthy quality to it. It’s a potpourri of R&B, folk, a little gospel, stirred in a pot, to which is added some avant-garde, jazz-laced surrealism. For instance, the opener, “Six Space Shuttles and 144,000 Elephants”, is a sparse song: it features Lonnie singing with just an electric piano accompanying him. Just those two sounds, input together, emit an output that’s a synergized, hypnotic artwork. “Six Space Shuttles…” weaves itself, seamlessly, into the next tune, “The Start of a River’s Run (One Drop)”, also very spartan, musically: this time Lonnie sings to the accompaniment of vibraphone. The 45 second “Making a Joyful Noise” is a spoken word rant, a sort-of mini sermon or something that precedes the album’s longest tune (13:36), “From the Other Side of the Pulpit”, which has a gospel edge to its bluesy, rambling jam session. It runs like a cryptic hymn of sorts. The album then closes with the title track, an instrumental, featuring more vibraphone licks, a syncopated rhythm structure – and really, that’s about it, as far as instrumentation goes. At the end of the tune, you hear some background voices that fill up some empty spaces and it helps take the song to a fitting end.
Sixty-Two year old Lonnie Holley has had quite a rough and tumble upbringing. In a recent interview with music writer Duncan Cooper, Holley recounted being “adopted into a whiskey house, locked up and beaten in the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children”, eventually finding sculpture to help him express his emotions and the demons which must have raged inside of him. No spring chicken, Holley. He’s had quite the life. Once he was old enough, he had already gotten the “art kick” and spent his time creating sculptures and other works of art.
His musical influences, while I can’t say for sure what they are, are reflected in his work: the bluesy feel, the R & B sound, that gospel flavor all mixed in with avant-garde hooks that have somehow been translated from his sculpting to his singing and songwriting. Although Holley has only just released his second CD at age 62, he certainly hasn’t been just pushing paper or stuck in a rotten, dead-end job all these years, granted, he must’ve had to work here and there, to make ends meet, but with this new artistic endeavor of his is a way to compile as well as juxtapose, all the experiences he’s been through, the places he’s been, the people with whom he’s interacted and it turns out that he certainly does have a knack for it. Keeping a Record of it is one hell of a great album. It bursts with energy and experience.