Holly Golightly: Truly She Is None Other

[28 August 2003]

By Stephen Haag

For those hip to the neo-garage scene, Holly Golightly has lately been the go-to girl for guest vocals; she turned in a well-received spot on the Greenhornes’ 2002 Dual Mono (about which more later) and of course joined Jack and Meg White on the winking three-way “It’s True That We Love One Another”, the closing track on the White Stripes’ latest gem, Elephant. Her instantly-recognizable voice brightened those already-fun albums and widened her fanbase, yet Golightly has had a 12-year stint in the music industry—first as part of Billy Childish’s British all-girl-garagesters Thee Headcoatees, and since her 1995 solo debut, Good Things, she’s pretty much been the reigning queen of folk-garage, releasing consistent albums chockfull of ‘60s R&B, garage, and British Invasion pop. While the formula hasn’t changed on her latest, Truly She Is None Other, it seems that the time spent with the Greenhornes and the White Stripes has remained in her system; as a result, Truly is an inspired album.

For starters, the album’s cover could be the cover of Meg White’s solo album some years down the road—all red and white and black, Golightly looking regal yet approachable. And the music within is right up Meg’s alley: a handful of Truly‘s tracks were recorded at London’s Toe-Rag Studios, the preserved mid-‘60s recording studio where Elephant was recorded. Included among the Toe-Rag tracks is “There’s An End”, which originally appeared on the Greenhornes’ Dual Mono (and was called “There Is An End”, for what it’s worth). It’s Truly‘s closing track, but it’s a perfect place for us to start. The song, with Golightly’s voice that straddles girly and come-hither, along with the dreamy guitars, gives off a vibe that doesn’t scream, so much as it does whisper, 1965; recording on 35-year-old equipment at Toe-Rag will do that. The result is a sexy record, of a kind that no one else seems to be making anymore. (I’m not talking Britney-style sex-kitten sexy; Golightly is a full-grown, full-blooded-woman-type sexy.)

Plenty of other tracks corroborate this notion. The shuffling blues of “Walk a Mile” finds Golightly exercising her inner torch singer (though I could do without the echo that producer Liam Watson tacks onto her voice). “All around the Houses” is more of the same, only twangier and with some offbeat (not offbeat) percussion from Bruce Brand. Maybe it’s just the reprints of her earlier album covers, with their faux-mod stylings, found in the liner notes, but one gets the feeling Golightly was born 40 years too late; her head and heart are still in the sultry ‘60s.

There’s also a domestic side to Golightly (though who is to say domestic and sexy are mutually exclusive?), as evinced by liner note photos of her, apron-clad, in her kitchen nursing a mug of tea, and looking quite content. And she tosses in a few covers from her spiritual father, the Britrock king of domestic, pastoral tranquility, Ray Davies. Golightly turns the Kinks’ studio outtake “Time Well Tell” (from Kinks Kontraband) into a rousing go-go number, while “Tell Me Now So I Know” makes for a good rumba; though she is a bit too coquettish on the tune, I can’t help but melt when she pours out lines like “I live just for you”. Sigh.

Not crazy about sexy or domestic Holly? Despite your pickiness (and aversion to her two best incarnations), Truly She Is None Other echoes other female singers with different personae from that of Golightly: the acoustic blues cover of composer Jessie Mae Robinson’s “Black Night” proves Meg White has a ways to go to catch up in the girly-blues department (common knowledge, but still); “It’s All Me”, with its bright guitar lines, could be a less-brassy Neko Case, circa The Virginian; and in a few places, notably “You Have Yet to Win”, Golightly makes like Liz Phair in her folk-rock mode.

Yes, all these women were influenced by Golightly, and not the other way around; Truly She Is None Other shows that three disparate female singers can trace their musical roots back to her. More importantly, Truly proves that Golightly is not content to coast on her title and reputation. Sure, the songs sound 40 years old, but Golightly is leading the charge of retro-futuro garage. Not too shabby for a woman who enjoys sitting around her kitchen sipping tea.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/golightlyholly-truly/