The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.
BY FRED MILLS
Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and several accompanying Stamey-Holsapple singles.
Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.
All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.
Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.
Holsapple recently told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays. Fair enough. But the critic – and yeah, the fan – in me think he’s underselling himself. I told him as much, too. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.
And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?
DOWNLOAD: The vinyl 45 comes with a free download code, so your choice is obvious. Incidentally, you can check out the video for the A-side here.