[5 March 2014]
I’ve probably said it before elsewhere on PopMatters, but country, roots, Americana – whatever you want to call it – is a hard genre to mess up. Part of the reason, I believe, is because the genre (genres?) attracts the singer-songwriter demographic, those who pay attention to skill and craft. So with so many artists of talent knocking the door of Nashville down, everyone is trying to raise the bar on what, on the surface, seems to be a very simple and non-complex and direct mode of songwriting.
And then there’s Holly Golightly.
Now, that’s not to say that Golightly and her musical partner Lawyer Dave (who is the Brokeoffs, as this outfit is strictly a duo) doesn’t pay attention to skill and craft. Not at all. It’s just that, judging by her latest release, All Her Fault, she simply is out to have a fun time with her music and offer little else of much substance. True, it’s definite that the love and affinity for twisted ’50-style roots and rockabilly are in evidence, and All Her Fault was an album that took the better part of a half-year to put together, as it was lovingly recorded in a home studio in piecemeal fashion. But, with opener “SLC”, Golightly and her musical partner are thumbing their noses at the conservative establishment, not giving a sweet damn about what anyone thinks, offering up the giddy lyrics: “Don’t get your hopes up in Salt Lake City / Because you ain’t gonna have a good time” and “Why you want go into Salt Lake City / Where you can’t get fucked up, can’t get shitty?” In the course of this two and a half minute song, it sounds like Golightly and the Brokeoffs are, indeed, having a grand ol’ barrel of fun singing about the Mormons and their reserved nature.
And that’s pretty much what you get with All Her Fault: songs about debauchery and taking the you-know-what out of pretenders to the Americana crown, this last bit directly implied in “Bless Your Heart”, which is about certain Nashville stars who haven’t spent their time in a trailer park. “Singing of the life you wish you knew / Telling all them stories just like it was you / ... No, you ain’t country, anyhow.” Clearly, Golightly is reverent towards a particular genre, and she is passionately willing to take down the fakes and pretenders to the crown.
However, if All Her Fault is anything, it is predictable to a fault. The very first time I listened to this album, I was hearing “For All That Ails You”, a saloon stomper that wouldn’t be too out of place in the Tom Waits catalogue, and thought, “I bet the next song is a jaunty giddy-up kind of song.” And, lo and behold, “Pistol Pete”, about Golightly’s passion for rescuing horses, is a piano-led mild gallop. And upon hearing “Pistol Pete”, I thought next, “This is good, but I bet the pace quickens from here.” And, sure enough, “Can’t Pretend” is a country rocker from the Johnny Cash songbook. And then I thought, “Gee, all that’s needed after this is something that brings down the temperature a notch.” And, sure enough, “Bless Your Heart” is a mid-tempo barroom shuffle. So there aren’t any devastating surprises to be found on All Her Fault and you walk away from this record feeling that it is merely competent. Plus, Golightly – who actually hails from the United Kingdom – has a kind of nasally whine of a voice that is an acquired taste, to be sure.
In fact, if there is anything surprising about the record, it is that, for a front-and-centre female vocalist, her pipes, at times, seem buried in the mix, and she’s more than happy to gleefully let Lawyer Dave handle singing responsibilities every now and then. And as a result of her drawl, things sometimes get lost in translation: when she sings “don’t shed your light down on me” on one song, it kinda unintentionally sounds a little like “don’t shit your light down on me”. But what’s a particularly glaring fault is that a lot of these songs, “SLC”, “Perfect Mess”, and “King Lee”, in particular, feel like they’ve simply run out of runway, and stop on little more than a dime, as though their creators were unsure of how to go on.
Still, for all of its shortcomings, All Her Fault can be a fun disc, if one comes to it with a certain appreciation for this prolific artist – Golightly has cut more than 20 albums, and that’s not counting ones where she has famously appeared (ie. the White Stripes’ Elephant). This is probably one best appreciated by those already bowing at the altar of Golightly and her muse. It’s fun, it’s giddy and not much more. Still, it’s great to hear an artist who has an affinity for the old ways of country music and its various styles, and All Her Fault is the kind of album you can really appreciate on a lazy weekend afternoon with a hard, stiff drink in hand. It’s too bad that the record doesn’t really rise above its influences, and doesn’t offer anything that would be a stylistic detour from these songs of trouble and sin. Still, country is a hard genre to screw up, and if there’s anything that this album proves, it’s that Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs have a pretty capable handle on the genre, even if it isn’t quite as perfect a handle that you would come to expect from someone of this pedigree.