CD Review: Hollis Brown – Ride on the Train (Alive, 2013)
The sophomore release from this Queens quartet continues to mine the intersection of angsty guitar pop, twangy Americana and Stonesish rock they debuted in 2009. Vocalist (and songwriter) Mike Montali also continues to charm with a voice that takes in the quivering vulnerability of Robin Wilson, the keening alto of Neil Young and the bluesy tint of Chris Robinson. Four years from their first album, the band has been road-honed into a tight, powerful outfit, but the arrangements have the extemporaneous feel of musicians are reacting to their singer’s story telling. The title track takes listeners on a thematic ride that starts slowly with the push of a hollow bass drum, gains speed with growling electric guitar chords, breaks down in contemplative depression and finally regains its locomotive traction.
Montali’s songs of second chances are accompanied by guitars that are tentative with their force, backing lyrics perched between asking, suggesting and telling. The music turns hopeful with the expectant possibilities of “Faith & Love” and melancholy for the introspective “If It Ain’t Me.” Lead guitarist Jon Bonilla shows off his chops with solos on the workingman’s lament “Doghouse Blues” and the driving blues-rocker “Walk on Water.” Tracks 1, 4, 6 and 8 are drawn from a 2012 EP that added Michael Hesslein’s keyboards, but given that set’s limited circulation, it’s great to have these tunes available again. Hollis Brown seemed fully formed back in 2009, but the extra years of playing out and writing has more deeply assimilated their influences and tightened the resonance between lyrics, vocals and instruments.