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 HerringtonGrade: B+
Joyce Cobb with the Michael Jefry Stevens Trio
A local scene veteran, Joyce Cobb has been a major Memphis presence as a Stax signee, nightclub owner, bandleader, recording artist, theater star, jazz crooner, and disc jockey, among other roles. On this Archer Records debut, she teams with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, a well-traveled jazz veteran who is currently an adjunct instructor at Rhodes College, for a romantic, old-fashioned collection of pop and jazz standards from such heavyweights as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington.
With bassist Jonathan Wires and drummer Renardo Ward completing Stevens' trio (and Cobb sometimes pitching in on harmonica), the band draws connections between these greats, sometimes explicitly, as when they segue from Berlin's "Blue Skies" to Monk's "In Walked Bud," which was based on the chord progression of the Berlin song.
Rather than merely a vocal showcase, this is a communal jazz record that allows room for everyone to shine. The long take on the Carmichael/Johnny Mercer tune "Skylark" goes for three and a half minutes before Cobb enters, as Stevens, Wires, and Ward gradually build the melody and then play around with it.
The 12-track collection opens with "Moanin'," which is grounded by Stevens' smoky piano. Cobb hits her stride on the nimble, swooning "If You Know Love."
Cobb and the Stevens Trio will celebrate the release of the album with a concert at AMRO Music on August 19th, at 6:30 p.m., and will head out for a European tour in September. — CH