Eponymous albums from local ladies leading new bands.
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Holly and the Heathens
For several years now, the most prominent female member of the generally boyish local Makeshift Music scene has been songwriter Holly Cole. Her debut solo EP, 2006's Fearless and Free, was a mix of moody folk and folky country. It was all good, but I preferred the folky country, as on "Turtle Dove."
Cole has retained both of those styles while adding a stronger rock foundation on the eponymous debut of Holly and the Heathens, a band fronted by Cole that includes three members of the Bulletproof Vests (Jake Vest, Brandon Robertson, and Greg Faison) along with violinist Krista Wroten. (The album was engineered and mixed by the other Vest brother, Toby.)
I tend to think rootsy singer-songwriter types work best as solo acts when they crack jokes or are particularly word-drunk. Cole is neither of these. She is instead more of a singer and formalist, so situating herself within the communal musicality of an active band is a good move. And with the Heathens' easy facility with rock, folk, or country settings backing up Cole's at times torchy, at times twangy vocals, the more forceful sound situates her style in the vein of indie-rock-to-alt-country singers such as Neko Case or Jenny Lewis.
Early highlights on Holly and the Heathens include the surging acoustic rocker "Returned Love" — a Fearless and Free cut re-recorded and improved upon here — with horns bubbling up Snowglobe-style (Snowglobe's Nashon Benford contributes) and the moody, wistful shuffle "Begin the Begin." But Holly and the Heathens is an album that actually gets better as it goes. "All That Was Lost" matches a locomotive Sun rhythm with a Grand Ole Opry vocal. "All in One Day," with, presumably, Jake Vest concocting a swaggering riff, is a strong rock move. And the closing waltz "Holy" is a sad country anti-lullaby, Cole asking at the outset, "How do you sleep at night when your baby's achin'?" But the best track here might also be the longest, the five-and-a-half-minute "Hole in Your Side," a yearning, unkempt lament with a nicely conceived Otis Redding interpolation illustrating how certain songs get scratched into our souls. — Chris Herrington
Sound Advice: Holly & the Heathens at the Hi-Tone
POSTED BY CHRIS DAVIS ON FRI, JUL 23, 2010 AT 11:19 AM
I've always liked Holly Cole's blend of girl pop, classic rock and hard corn honky tonk but her first EP Fearless and Free left me a little cold. With the exception of "Turtle Dove," a sweetly crafted study in old school twang, the songs all sounded a little murky and too much alike. Even Cole's full bodied voice couldn't make me fall in love with the disc the way I wanted to. And there was so much potential on display on Fearless and Free that I really wanted to.
Cole's second release, the eponymous Holly & the Heathens, represents at least the partial fulfillment of that initial promise. It's an alluring hodge-podge of sounds and styles that show off Cole's considerable talents while suggesting that this is an artist who's still slugging it out with her influences, trying to figure out where she fits. Standout tracks include "Make Up Your Mind," a folk-psyche ballad that calls to mind Burning World-era Swans. "All That Was Lost" begins with the freight train rhythm of an old Johnny Cash song but plays out as an answer to “As Long,” from , The Reigning Sound's first CD Break Up Break Down. "All in One Day" is a hip shaking exercise in classic rock while the beautifully arranged "Holy," is a spare waltz for guitar and violin that closes this completely satisfying disc with a classic country music koan: “How do you sleep at night when your baby's aching?” Well, how do you?
Holly and the Heathens
Written by Chris McCoy
Saturday, 24 July 2010 18:25
It's all about context, and with her new band the Heathens, Memphis songstress Holly Cole gets the context that can stand up to the strength of her voice and contain the quality of her songwriting.
Cole's been experimenting with different line-ups and combination of instruments for a while. But this new set of songs, recorded with the core of the Bullet Proof Vests and violinist Krista Wroten, are the fruits of a new creative alchemy. The nearest comparison to the sound of the Heathens may be [I]Fox Confessor[/I]-era Neko Case, an artist whose reluctance to color within the lines of any one genre Cole shares. Here, her eclecticism stays rooted in perfect arrangements that emphasize the vocals without losing complexity or succumbing to the blandness that sometimes results from expanding songs written mostly on acoustic guitar into a rock band format. Cole herself has attained a new mastery over her instrument, knowing when to lay back and sing pretty and when to unleash her raging alto.
The album manages to find the sweet spot in all of the genres it visits. The folksy songs don't devolve into cornpone, the country swing doesn't go too Nashville, and the rockers get up and run. The record opens with the 6/8 shuffle of "Come Back To Me", where Cole says she's "counting the hours 'til you come back to me", but slyly undercuts the sentiment by asking her lover to "free me from this apathy". She's not broken-hearted—no mere mortal man could do that—she's just bored. On the standout "Electric Blue Eyes", the band effortlessly ramps the tempo up and down—a feat easier conceived and described than executed—while Cole keeps a suitor at arms length with a lyrical delivery that is equal parts come-on and brush-off. "Hole In Your Side" sees the singer at her most emotional, while the band "la la la"s their way into a totally unexpected, gender-reversed coda of Otis Redding's "These Arms Of Mine". It is the most surprising moment in an album of enough peaks and valleys to win over the most jaded listener.
Holly Cole gives up solo role for 2 new bands
By Mark Jordan
Thursday, July 22, 2010
On a recent Saturday night, Memphis singer-songwriter Holly Cole rolled back in time.
Cole, 27, and her new band, the Heathens, were at Skateland Raleigh roller skating rink on Stage Road shooting a video for The Commercial Appeal's online video series "Hotel Memphis." Taking great care to protect their instruments, Cole and her band -- violinist Krista Wroten, guitarist Jake Vest playing a melodica, and bassist Brandon Robertson filling in for absent drummer Greg Faison -- strapped on skates and moved to the center of the rink. As a cameraman and the Saturday night regulars swirled around them, they played an acoustic version of Cole's "Come Back To Me."
"This place has been here forever. When I was a kid my dad worked down the street, and I used to come here all the time," says Cole, explaining how she chose the location for the shoot. "I just like the lighting and the idea of kids skating around us while we play."
The "us" in the last sentence is significant. Cole has been best known up to this point as a solo artist, a staple on the acoustic circuit around town where her full-throated, country-tinged vocals and emotional, dynamic songwriting have made her a popular draw. But after years as a stand-alone act, Cole is exploring the possibilities of being part of a group with not one but two new band projects, including the eponymous debut this week from the Heathens.
The band will celebrate the release of the record with a show Saturday at the Hi-Tone.
Cole has been singing most of her life, first in church and later in her school concert choir and musicals. But by the time she was attending Cordova High School, she was feeling the pull to follow her older brothers and join a rock band. She had a brief stint with a high school metal outfit, but found her true voice when she was 16 and got her first acoustic guitar for Christmas.
"I basically learned to play guitar because I wanted to write songs," she says.
Cole's first public performance was actually in Los Angeles, where she lived for a year after graduation. Missing home, she moved back to Memphis and soon fell in with Makeshift Music, the loose collective of alternative rock musicians that also includes Snowglobe, Paul Taylor and Jeffrey James & the Haul.
In 2006, Cole released her first record, the EP Fearless And Free, on Makeshift. The disc is still one of Makeshift's top-selling releases. Despite the success, Cole was dissatisfied with the results.
"Fearless And Free was recorded with multiple players, random people here and there, whoever was around the studio at the time," says Cole of the patchwork nature of the sessions. "I'm still really proud of that record, but every song sounds like a different band. It was different people on everything. It was chaos."
For her follow-up, Cole determined to put together a cohesive studio band that would play on the entire record. Over a couple of years she slowly assembled a backing unit that included Makeshift regulars Faison and Robertson, who also drew in his Bulletproof Vest bandmate Vest. Cole also recruited her high school classmate Wroten, a classically trained violinist who also sings harmonies.
When the band went in the studio last fall, it quickly became apparent that they were not going to be simply a bunch of back-up musicians. The new players began bringing not just their chops but their own ideas to the table, augmenting and sometimes radically restructuring Cole's original songs.
"We completely revamped songs that we'd been throwing around for a couple of years," says Robertson. "We'd just completely change the structure or the rhythm of it, and it would be a different song. It was like, OK, this song has settled into what it's supposed to be."
Wroten says the process was completely natural.
"We all kind of feed off of each other's energies in a cool way," she says. "There were so many times when me and Toby and Holly or Brandon would be in the control room listening to something and we'd think of almost the exact same part that needed to be added at the same time and we'd start singing it together."
With the Heathens set to make their big debut this weekend, Cole is already working on another band project. She and Wroten have teamed with another high school classmate, cellist Jana Misener of the band Giant Bear, and drummer Natalie Mason to form the all-female acoustic group Holly & the Memphis Dawls.
The band presently plays folk versions of Cole's songs, but both she and Misener are writing material especially for the new group, which is recording its own album.