Note: This review was first published on the Indie Voice blog on September 14, 2015.
Long-time folk artist Claire Holley has created a gem with her latest offering, Time in the Middle. If you love alt-country/Americana artists like Patty Griffin or Lucinda Williams, then this CD is the perfect choice for you.
Holley grew up in Mississippi but now calls Los Angeles her home. Although she is new to this reviewer, she is not new to the industry, as she has seven previous albums to her credit. According to her publicist, Holley wanted her new album to be more than just a folk album. If that’s the case, then Holley has surely succeeded. Holley’s influences on this album range from Bob Marley to Van Gogh, coupled with the traditions and sounds of her southern roots.
The record was recorded at Sonic Temple studio in Ferndale, California, located a few hours north of the Bay Area, and co-produced by Dan Phelps, a multi-instrumentalist that Holley credits with “infusing the songs with electricity and vitality.” Phelps has worked with artists ranging from Tori Amos to David Wilcox. “Dan merged music to lyric so intuitively and naturally that I didn’t even realize what he was doing until months later when the songs were mixed,” explained Holley.
One of the things that sets this album apart from so many others is that the entire team (Jonathan Kingham (organ, piano, co-writer and producer); Martin Woodlee (engineer, mixer) and Phelps (guitars, drum, bass, Moog and piano) camped in the guesthouse during the recording process. This led to a true camaraderie between the musicians and crew and an organic feel to the music.
The record begins with an amazing cover of a Bob Marley tune, “Three Little Birds.” “I came up with this guitar riff that I really liked and needed ready made lyrics,” explains Holley. “On a whim I just tried singing Marley’s lyrics with this music. The recording came with an ease that I can’t explain but am grateful for.”
The next tune, “Traveling Saints,” implores its listeners to “dance like you never have before,” and is a tribute to residents of the Crescent City aka New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Boat of Dreams” has a soothing dreamy melody with compelling lyrics about searching for what lies beyond, and is one of the best tracks on the CD. It is followed by “Heat of July,” a song that honors Holley’s dad in a classic country song with a sound reminiscent of Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.”
“Love in a Bowl” combines zydeco, Dixieland jazz, a blistering guitar riff and sassy lyrics into a fun song that reminds this reviewer of the Beatles hit, “Sgt. Pepper.” The obvious pop influence continues on the next track, “How you Fly.”
The lyrics for the next tune, “Kudzu” were lifted from a poem by Beth Ann Fennelly called The Kudzu Chronicles. Holley comments: “I love the spooky textures Dan (Phelps) made for this track. It’s like some mosquito humming in your ear.”
The title track returns to a big piano sound as Holley gives us a beautiful love ballad that is airy and smooth similar to her earlier track “Boat of Dreams.” The next two tunes, “Bones” and “Be Still” offer up rockier sounds than any of the other tracks. “Bones” was used in the indie film Child of the Desert, while “Be Still” is Holley’s answer to that song that returns to the simply perfect sound of Holley’s voice and an acoustic guitar before giving way to a simple drum beat and the wail of the electric guitar.
The album closes with “Saturday Sale,” which describes the experience of sifting through a box of forgotten attic treasures and reliving those memories, and is a perfect ending for the record, which will surely be remembered by its listeners.
For more information on Holley, check out her website and her Facebook page, Thanks to Kim Grant at KG Music Press for the background materials and for turning this reviewer on to this amazing artist.