Secret Meeting score: 92
by Joseph Purcell
Lonnie Holley has led a remarkable life of turmoil, tragedy, artistic freedom and creativity. Born in Alabama on the 10th February 1950, he was raised in an America still in the shadow of segregated bathrooms, restaurants, buses and drinking fountains, which has resulted in a remarkable drive to channel these events into art.
After spending his formative years with his 26 siblings, being traded by adoptive parents, surviving near death accidents and persistent flirtations with the law, Holley began at the age of 29 to channel his experiences – starting with sculpture and art, Holley used his struggles for redemption, and the brutal, chaotic experiences he had been subjected to formed the inspiration for his first work: two gravestones for his sisters who died in a house fire. Since then, Holley has earned the recognition he deserved and – once encouraged by Atlanta art collector and champion of African-American art, William Arnett – his work began to appear in places such as The White House Rose Garden and at The United Nations.
Despite making his own recordings for decades, Holley’s work had never been put out into the public domain, until Arnett’s son and now Holley’s manager, began to encourage him to do so. Immediately, artists as varied as Deerhunter’s Brandon Cox, Animal Collective, Justin Vernon and Julia Holter sought out Holley for collaborations and samples, such is his unique vocal style of tender, raw ferocity.
Throughout MITH, his third full length LP, are fresh, exciting, emotional songs which showcase his turbulent talents. Holley moves effortlessly between genres, fusing jazz, funk, electronica, indie guitars, and dance into a wonderfully crafted manifesto for life. At the epicentre his remarkable voice, cast with the scars of experiences, but there is an enthusiasm and relish for life, which suggests this will be a record that is appreciated for decades to come.
On an album packed with highlights, opener, I’m A Suspect, rumbles along with a cacophonic echoes and takes aim at the police brutality of black men. Holley sublimely takes on the role of a lone voice straining against the barrage of an oppressive society. While Back For Me carries the vibe of a New Orleans jazz bar, and the spaced out drums of How Far is Spaced Out also delight.
I Snuck Off The Slave Ship is remarkable, eighteen minute voyage of sounds, as Holley’s detailed lyrical expressions seemingly emit direct from the soul. ‘Watching the capture of my body and taken somewhere, beating me bloody,’ Holley dictates the tempo, conducting the whirlwind of instrumentation that bleeds into the track, as the music mirrors the pain and suffering of the lyrics. Holley again patches together a canvas of brutality upon which the slave narrative can be painted. And only further proves that is a unique genius at work.
Lead single, I Woke Up in a Fucked up America, is undoubtedly the track that best encapsulates the societal disintegration and depressive salaciousness of a Trump led America. Opening with a gentle piano, before the disjointed trombones, drums and synth keenly convey the turmoil felt by Holley, he regresses back to his childhood. Holley laments the breakdown of open communication, of white collar criminology and implores everyone to wake up. This is a sermon to a nation seemingly set on self-implosion.
MITH draws to a close with the marvellous, joy inducing, Sometimes I Wanna Dance. And after the weight of lyrical content on an album running well over the sixty minute mark, it feels even more euphoric. ‘We can even dance on a beach, by a mountain side, we can even dance by the river because I know that you wanna dance, every boy every girl, woman dance, ooo let the body groove’. On the incredible closer, Holley pitches the ideas of unity and fun, succinctly highlighting that happiness is inclusive of all.
Speaking recently, Holley described himself as an American artist, but a person who speaks for us all- ‘You’ve got to remember, when I’m voicing this opinion, that I’m just an old man who’s considered to be an outsider, to have no place in the world. This is something that’s supposed to be for the highly-paid humans to figure out, and I’m not on that scale. But I still care! I really, really care’. MITH is Holley’s masterpiece- a unique historical document of a past once more unfolding before our eyes. He may describe himself as ‘just an old man’, but in truth he is an inspirational voice in times of strife.