By ERIC THOM
There are many distinctive voices in the category of rock but rarely a quality voice that makes you sit up and really take notice. Adam Holt has one of those and Kind of Blues – this self-produced release – goes well outside of the lines to embrace everything from rich, Southern blues to rock-pop, country-rock and full-fledged blues-rock.
Which comes off as being somewhat surprising, given that Holt looks – and sounds like – a good ol’ Alabama boy. Naturally, one assumes he’s the voice of the band, surrounding himself with great players to make good on his vision – or is he the hired help for someone else’s enterprise? Turns out, he can do it all, as bumping into this YouTube video makes clear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySNqDOm4bmw
For this release, however, Holt has surrounded himself with exceptional players: Owen Finley/Pierre Robinson (bass), Greg Deluca (drums), Donnie Sundal (keyboards), Lee Yankie (slide guitar) and Mark Welborn (pedal steel). To his credit, this home-recorded album’s sound is crystalline clear – so much so that some of his standout guitar work can leave a welt. However, if you judge a man by his appearance, the opening “Mr. Morning Drive” might surprise you. An upbeat tribute to wife, Jillian’s DJ Grandpa, it’s built around actual recordings from Jack Bell’s AM drive-time radio slot on WOOW, Holt’s cheery, beyond-buoyant chorus constructed around tight drumming, thick swaths of B3 and his own blisteringly-clear guitar work. Yet, the takeaway is sunny pop, right down to its hummable chorus – Grandpa Jack would likely approve of such a rousing novelty. The chameleonic Holt continues with “Don’t Give Up On Me, Baby”, diving much deeper – slower, more bluesy – adding taut, muscular guitar lines (Yankie’s slide?), Holt’s soul-soaked vocal far forward in the mix. One of the disc’s key tracks is surely “Bobby” – a lament for a snowblind friend, set up by the funereal sounds of a church organ intro as the song unfolds. There is no resolve, only hope – from one friend to the other – as guitars scrawl over the serious beat of the rhythm section. The kinder, gentler “I’m Still Holding On” binds acoustic guitar to electric while Welborn’s pedal steel underlines Holt’s deep country drawl. Holt’s lead guitar cuts glass on this southern-sounding epiphany that builds to an epic scale. Cue up the darkly aggressive “Before I Trusted You” – featuring a stinging guitar hook coupled to tough chords, buoying Holt’s rich, fully-expressive voice as he lays an ex-lover (one assumes) to waste, as Yankie’s slide and guest guitarist John Keuler join in the fray. The driving, honky-tonking piano of Donnie Sundal sets the stage for “Give The Dog A Bone”, borrowing a page from Skynyrd in this loving tribute to Man’s Best Friend, Holt’s guitar snarling and barking accordingly. The rich balladry of “The Story Must Go On” provides an illuminating backdrop to appreciating the superior tone of Holt’s guitar work as his lyric conjures the evil spectre of Jim Crow and a war not yet won. There’s a simplicity to “The Bourgeoisie” – as if CCR were a strong influence – yet it’s this very simplicity that makes the song so catchy, despite its tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated lyric. Sundal’s soothing, simmering sheets of B3 set up “The End” with its gentle, liquid guitar leads and solid backbeat. You’d never guess Holt might cover Dylan – let alone Nashville Skyline’s sacrosanct “Lay Lady Lay” – yet he ups its country edge with his deep, resonant, Big Sky vocal, supported by the authenticity of Welborn’s weeping pedal steel, right down to its cowbell accompaniment. Stranger still to end on this classic when the level of songwriting on Holt’s nine originals are so drop-dead impressive. His is a voice and a solid guitar sound you’ll want to add to your library of bona fide southern sounds as you dig back through his catalogue to see where it all came from – wondering why it’s taken ‘til now to hear about somebody this good.