Adam Holt Kind of Blues Zenith Records AdamHoltMusic.com
Every music writer is looking for a niche, a space all their own.
Mine appears to be writing about folks I’ve never before heard, and it is a fine gig. Almost weekly of late I am discovering musicians, singers, and songwriters I have not previously encountered.
That’s quite a string. Of twenty reviews written since mid-April, a full ten are about musicians, singers, and songwriters I hadn’t previously encountered. And each was—for a day or seven—my next new favourite, all bringing something special to their latest recording, something that resonated with me which made me wish to dig deeper.
Now, Adam Holt.
Coming strong out of Alabama, Adam Holt has been at this for a couple decades with a handful of albums to his credit. I’ve only heard his previous release The Sunday Troubadour via iTunes previews, and it sounds good enough that I’m going to want to download it once I refresh my credits. Within those sampled sounds, I can hear the development of Holt’s workingman’s blues, songs about daily life, challenges, and small celebrations.
But Kind of Blues? Next level, and then some.
The Adam Holt sound is big voiced, soulful, Muscle Shoals-infused rock ‘n’ roll influenced by Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, and John Forgerty. Good stuff, then.
While I may not have heard his music before slipping Kind of Blues into the CD machine, it didn’t take many minutes for me to stop and give the recording its deserving attention.
The album kicks off in atypical fashion.
“Mr. Morning Drive” is perhaps the album’s most conventional song, featuring the voice of Holt’s spouse Jillian’s grandfather, long-time radio DJ Jack Bell. What makes the song ‘conventional’ is the reverence with which Holt sings about this radio hero: it is a straight-ahead country song that could have been written at any point in the last fifty years, a paean to the many radio voices that shaped our musical lives, giving us something to strive toward. I immediately wanted to know more, who was this “Jack” with me, kicking off our day?
What makes “Mr. Morning Drive” unique, memorable, and completely engrossing is the snappy hook of the refrain, the blistering wall of sound produced by Holt’s guitar, and the use of Bell’s voice to introduce and close the song, the experienced patter of a master. It is a song that completely stands apart from the rest of the recording, and yet beautifully sets the tone for the diverse experience that it offers.
“Don’t Give Up On Me Baby” and “Before I Trusted You” are incredibly well-crafted, surprising songs. Lyrically they veer toward the edges; instrumentally, they pack in more blistering hooks than a hardware store. This—and on “The Bourgeoisie”—is where the blues tradition meets with country populism and the folk essence.
“When there is no one left to blame, and no one left to use; you’ll find yourself all alone and wondering what to do,” Holt sings after being deceived in “Before I Trusted You.” “We all need a hero that we can turn to, I’d give my vote to Nixon before I trusted you.”
In “Don’t Give Up On Me Baby” things are heading toward the promise of better times. However, nothing is assured. Holt plaintively asks, “If I cry, will you dry my eyes? If I bleed, will you rescue me? If I fall, will you help me stand? If I break, will you pick up the pieces of me as they land?” All the while, Holt’s crack band keeps the music heading down the highway. His rhythm section of either Owen Finley and Pierre Robinson (bass—individual song notes are not provided) and Gregg Deluca (drums) are as prominent here as across the album’s 45-minutes, exploring a solid groove while holding everything together. Holt wails over top, his guitar building the song’s intensity into an explosion of notes: it is quite something.
“The Story Must Go On” is a southern anthem, one benefiting from the insight of Holt’s wisdom. Most obviously a proud Southerner, Holt isn’t blind to the challenges of his land. This song cuts to the core, recognizing the slow progress of change since the days of Jim Crow: “When the house of God falls prey to the devil’s call, and the demons come along and the angels fall, another page is turned and the story must go on.”
Donnie Sundall’s organ comes to the fore on a pair of songs. “The End” is a foreboding tune of never getting ahead. Absolutely devastating is “Bobby,” an elegy to a friend not long for the world. The organ sweeps around and through Holt’s plaintive cries, bolstered by an instrumental jam creating tension only released when the song fades to silence.
“I’m Still Holding On” shows Holt’s country side, a song of hapless faith. Lighter is “Give the Dog A Bone,” a buoyant, good-time ode to man’s best friend. Concluding the album is a confident remake of “Lay Lady Lay,” a song well-suited to Holt; Mark Welborn’s pedal steel is effective on this classic.
Have I done Kind of Blues justice? Not likely. Adam Holt is a great singer, reminding one of Chris Stapleton and Otis Gibbs, but naturally entirely his own. He appears to be an instrument and recording gear geek, self-producing Kind of Blues in his own, hand-hewn studio. The songs were recorded with the band playing together, and the intimacy of this method is apparent. Kind of blues, sure. But there is also rock ‘n’ roll, country, soul, and folk herein, making it a perfect album for Fervor Coulee and the roots-inclined who visit it. (Review based on provided CD.)