If the music industry were like an episode of the original Star Trek, Holly Golightly would be the goateed evil doppelganger of Julee Cruise. Or, to drag the comparison and mix metaphors, what Cruise was to the White Lodge of the Twin Peaks universe, Golightly would be to the Black Lodge. But that takes things too far in the wrong direction. There’s nothing evil about Holly Golightly — actually, quite the opposite. Golightly is an excellent musician whose dark tales are instantly engaging. But where Cruise represents the light, airy, and ethereal side of country-blues Americana music, Golightly is the decidedly earthy, bedraggled, and slightly coarse flipside of the same.
The surprise is that Golightly is actually a Brit. Yet there’s definitely something American-sounding about her garage-folk blues-rockabilly. It’s like a mental image of a doped-up, road-dirty Nancy Sinatra sans white vinyl go-go boots, filtered through two decades of punk sensibility. Maybe that has a lot to do with the ’50s rockabilly fashion sense that Golightly displays in photos and the retro album artwork that adorns many of her albums, but it’s also in her voice, with its drawn-out notes and hazy vocalizations.
Holly Golightly has put out an impressive amount of material in a very short time. In this respect she takes after the man who “discovered” her, Britain’s infamous Billy Childish. Childish cranks out albums, poems, and compilation material ceaselessly. In the early 1990s, he brought Golightly and three other women together to be one of his many musical outlets. That band eventually became Thee Headcoatees. Thee Headcoatees put out a fair number of albums of their music under Childish’s direction, but in 1994 Holly Golightly struck out on her own and released her first solo album, The Good Things. In 1996, the New York Times named The Good Things “Album of the Year”. Since then, Golightly has produced 11 more albums, 11 singles, and a couple of EPs, as well as continuing work with Thee Headcoatees.
Singles Round Up collects the a- and b-sides from those singles in one place for the first time. For fans of Golightly, this is a vital disc. Most of the singles were extremely limited pressings, making them more or less unavailable. With the release of this CD, Golightly also has the chance of showcasing the course of her career as a solo artist. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have changed too much. On the one hand, Golightly’s songs are rich and dense, even in their garage-production simplicity, and each deserves some analysis in its own right. But with 24 songs on this disc, there simply isn’t the space to do each justice here. Yet, on the other hand, there is a general consistency to the tone and theme of the songs on this collection that gives the CD a certain cohesiveness, but also a self-sameness. The earliest tracks tend toward muddy garage rock, while the later tracks find Golightly heading more into the realm of R&B and rockabilly. But these not-so-distant styles fluctuate over the course of the whole disc and don’t really show a progression over time. Just about every song on this disc deals with painful imagery, numbness after heartbreak, and/or disaffected apathy.
However, there are certain songs that stand out as highlights. “The Ride #1”, the b-side to her very first single, “Believe Me #1”, “Come the Day”, “Stain”, and the “Your Love is Mine/Laughing to Keep From Crying” single — on which she duets with Dan Melchior — are excellent examples of that time just before the birth of rock-and-roll when country and R&B came together and fornicated before the resulting birth of their rock-and-roll offspring. In a totally different vein, the biggest surprise on the album is her cover of Pavement’s “Box Elder”. Golightly ups the tempo a little to make this a rolling blues-rock tune and sings it with an almost Go-Gos delivery, making the song a different monster than the original, but very enjoyable.
Others have noted that Childish’s gang of musicians have a tendency towards lots of output and little production value, but that it often works in their favor by lending the music an authentically “old” feeling. Golightly’s music is no different, and the scratchy, unevenly mixed production on these songs adds to the music’s ability to take the listener back to a dusty jukebox circa 1954, even if you’ve never been there before. Pick up this disc and take a journey through a weathered-but-never-broken woman’s view of a whiskey-soaked world, throw on your dancing shoes, and have a ball.