[6 October 2006]
Mention the name “Dave Hollister” to the average music fan, and the likely response you’ll get is “who?”. Perhaps a few will remember him as one of the original lead-singers in the rotating line-up of Blackstreet. Another few will remember the string of solo albums that he released over the course of the late ‘90s and early Oughts.
Still, the presence of this Greatest Hits, erm, Definitive Collection is a head-scratcher for even most die-hard fans. After all, it’s not like Hollister had a string of hits. Despite the fact that his first two solo albums went Gold (and the debut album from Blackstreet went Platinum), Hollister has remained among the R&B marginalia. Although his butter-smooth tenor and his mature vocals and lyrics (which occasionally cross over into adults-only territory) is perfect for listeners of blue-collar soul in the manner of Gerald LeVert, it’s never left a big mainstream impression, unlike, say, his vocally less-talented fellow Chicagoan R. Kelly. Or his cousins K-Ci & Jojo Hailey of Jodeci.
So let’s say that the majority of folks out there can use The Definitive Collection as something of a starting point. If meaty, classy R&B with no club jams or guest rappers is what you came for, then this album will definitely satiate you. It covers over a decade’s worth of music, from his first musical appearance as a member of Force One Network (the new-jack swing meets Take 6 shuffle of “Spirit (Does Anybody Care?)” appeared on the Boyz N the Hood soundtrack back in ‘91) to his two standout vocal performances with Blackstreet to selections from each of his four solo albums. These songs rarely go above mid-tempo, but run the gamut from streetwise, hip-hop-inflected R&B to neo-soul.
When describing Hollister’s voice, the key word is “warmth”. It’s not youthful, like Usher’s, and he doesn’t feel the need to blow every note into the ground. It’s supple, it’s meaty, and Hollister knows how to use it well. For most other male R&B singers, a song like “Babymamadrama” would just sound like fake ghetto posturing—profanity and all. What Hollister succeeds in doing with this song is accurately portraying the battle (in this case, an extremely bitter one) between the sexes. Utilizing Prince’s tortured screaming from “Darling Nikki” in the background of the chorus, “Drama” is “thug” R&B at its finest. Pretenders like Jaheim and Urban Mystic could never match up.
Hollister’s forte is definitely the “relationship” song. Many of the songs included here explore adult relationship situations. The sonic backdrops and knowing lyrics are perfect for Hollister’s everyman, blue-collar voice. Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go” (Hollister’s only visit to the Pop Top Ten) is a perfect example. It’s a sweet, classy, mature song that deserves as spot as one of the best slow jams of the ‘90s. “One Woman Man” (probably Hollister’s best-known solo single) finds him reminiscing on his player ways as he’s approached by a beautiful girl. Where most R&B singers would’ve gone right into bed with her, Hollister goes left and pledges monogamy to his special lady. That topic comes up once again in “My Favorite Girl” (included here in two versions), where a cheating Hollister realizes the error of his ways and decides to shut down operations on the “side chick” front.
While most of the material is good here, there is a bit of structural sameness to some of the songs. Much like the aforementioned LeVert, Hollister’s songs and albums tend to blend together. Even the song titles—“I’m Sorry”, “I’m Wrong”, “It’s Okay”—sort of jumble up. The fact that many of the song tempos stay in the “not too fast/not too slow” lane also results in the occasional lame song. However, Hollister remains one of those guys who can revive a substandard song just by the sound of his voice. “Good Ol’ Ghetto” is the same childhood reminiscence that just about every R&B artist tackles at least once, but Hollister’s good-natured vocals contain a wistfully cheery, sepia-toned quality that gets the song over.
Those who haven’t heard this man’s voice or have slept on nearly a decade and a half of his music could do themselves a very big favor by picking up The Definitive Collection. For those who complain that they don’t make R&B singers like they used to, Hollister is definitely a throwback to an earlier generation, representing for all of those hard-working regular guys without the washboard abs or hot dance moves. He might be headed down the gospel road for his next release, but check this album for some of the most solid R&B of the past decade.