Steve Ter­rell on Bri­tish chanteuse Holly Go­lightly

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The orig­i­nal Holly Go­lightly was cre­ated by Tru­man Capote. She was the pro­tag­o­nist of his 1958 novel Break­fast at Tif­fany’s. Capote de­scribed her as “an Amer­i­can geisha.”

But the Holly Go­lightly I’m writ­ing about is nei­ther a geisha nor an Amer­i­can — though for the past sev­eral years she’s been liv­ing in the U.S. of A. This Holly Go­lightly is a singer who comes from Eng­land. And, yes, that is her real name, at least two-thirds of her real name. She was born Holly Go­lightly Smith in 1966. Her mother re­port­edly was read­ing Break­fast

at Tif­fany’s around the time of Holly’s birth and liked the name.

This Holly Go­lightly hap­pens to be one of the most un­der­rated rock ’n’ roll singers cur­rently ply­ing the trade. And she’s got not one but two new al­bums – Slow­town Now!, a solo al­bum, and Coulda Shoulda Woulda, un­der the ban­ner of Holly Go­lightly & The Broke­offs. Both are solid mu­si­cal de­lights full of tasty tunes and Go­lightly’s wicked wit and at­ti­tude.

A lit­tle Holly history: In the early ’90s, Go­lightly’s boyfriend was the drum­mer of Thee Head­coats, which was the mu­si­cal ve­hi­cle of Bri­tish garage poet/rock crank Billy Child­ish. She be­came an orig­i­nal mem­ber of Thee Head­coa­tees, a garage-rock girl group orig­i­nally formed to back the boys, but which grew into a force of its own, record­ing sev­eral al­bums full of spunk and fire.

Go­lightly re­mained a mem­ber of the band un­til around 1999. But a few years be­fore that, she started record­ing her own solo al­bums. Go­lightly moved to the U.S. not long af­ter she shifted mu­si­cal gears in 2007 and be­gan record­ing bare-boned funky-clunky coun­try bluesy records with her part­ner “Lawyer Dave” Drake un­der the name Holly Go­lightly & The Broke­offs. While a few steps re­moved from Thee Head­coa­tees’ garage sound, those rootsy al­bums rep­re­sent some of her finest work. All of her al­bums since then have been Broke­offs al­bums, un­til Slow­town Now!

For Slow­town, her first solo al­bum in 11 years, Go­lightly went back to Lon­don to record. And she recorded it for her old la­bel Dam­aged Goods (which has re­leased a ma­jor chunk of Child­ish’s cat­a­log) with an ac­tual band as­sem­bled for the al­bum, fea­tur­ing a cou­ple of gui­tarists, a drum­mer, and a standup bassist. The over­all sound draws from the var­i­ous in­flu­ences that have pro­pelled Go­lightly — rock­a­billy, ’60s girl­group sounds, blues, smoky jazz, and more.

It starts off with a slow-burn­ing swamp-a-billy tune called “Seven Won­ders” with a se­duc­tive voodoo beat and sweet, grat­ing guitar. This is fol­lowed by “Fool Fool Fool (Look in the Mir­ror),” fea­tur­ing a retro fuzz-guitar hook. The only tune here that’s not a Go­lightly orig­i­nal, this song was done in the mid-’60s by a Chicago soul singer named Bar­bara Ack­lin (who prob­a­bly is best known for co-writ­ing The Chi-Lite’s hit “Have You Seen Her”). With its soft trom­bone and sexy, un­der­stated vo­cals by Go­lightly, “Frozen in Time” could al­most pass as an old Burt Bacharach pro­duc­tion, some­thing you might hear in an Austin Pow­ers movie sound­track.

Go­lightly hasn’t for­got­ten how to rock. The sassy “As You Go Down” (fea­tur­ing some fine bass from

Matt Rad­ford) is rooted in rock­a­billy and, of all the songs here, prob­a­bly sounds clos­est to her pre-Broke­offs al­bums. That’s fol­lowed by the down­right garagey “You Stopped My Heart” with some more snazzy fuz­ztone guitar. “Forever­more” re­minded me of the re­cent Deke Dick­er­son/Los Strait­jack­ets col­lab­o­ra­tion (Deke Dick­er­son Sings the Great In­stru­men­tal Hits) be­cause the melody is so sim­i­lar to the old surf hit “Apache.” While there is so much to ad­mire on

Slow­town Now!, both in the per­for­mance and the pro­duc­tion, be­tween Go­lighty’s new al­bums, I have to say I like the rau­cous new Broke­offs’ ef­fort the best.

Coulda Shoulda Woulda, which is sched­uled for re­lease on Oct. 16, is a big sloppy home­made Amer­i­can mess. Of course, I mean that in the best pos­si­ble way. From the open­ing cut, “Heaven Buy and Buy,” a rock­ing faux-gospel in­dict­ment of re­li­gious hypocrisy (in­clud­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to the devil to per­form an ob­scene act), this al­bum is packed with crazy fun.

The rootsy tango “Apart­ment 34” is a char­ac­ter sketch of some bad white-trash neigh­bors who “do their cook­ing in the bath­tub” and have a thing for old Ca­maros; “Lone­some Grave” is a spooky, fire-and­brim­stone fid­dle-and-banjo work­out; “Lit­tle Mule” has some nice nasty guitar hooks; “Karate” is a funky dance song, though fans of Thee Head­coa­tees will surely see the link to “My Boyfriend’s Learn­ing Karate”; and “Jump in the River” is Lawyer Dave’s big mo­ment, tak­ing Lead­belly’s great no­tion and turn­ing it into a sar­donic dec­la­ra­tion of sal­va­tion.

Holly and Dave al­ways come up with great cock­eyed cover songs. Their best re­mains Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Hum­ble” (from their 2012 al­bum Sun­day Run Me Over). But in the same de­mented strato­sphere is this al­bum’s “Mar­i­juana, the Devil’s Flower,” a vintage coun­try-western anti-drug song by some­one called Mr. Sun­shine. The cho­rus goes “Mar­i­juana, the devil’s flower, if you use it, You’ll be a slave/Mar­i­juana’s gonna bring you sor­row/ It will send you to your grave.” (By the way, there were at least two coun­try songs with a sim­i­lar ti­tle. Another, which I found on a vol­ume of the fab­u­lous Twisted Tales From the Vinyl Waste­lands se­ries, was “Mar­i­juana, the Devil Flower” by a Johnny Cash copy­cat named Johnny Price.)

Coulda Shoulda Woulda ends with a Christ­mas song — ac­tu­ally, an anti-Christ­mas song — called “Christ­mas Is a Lie.” This won’t be played at any big stores while you do your Yule­tide shop­ping. But it would be cool if it were. God bless us ev­ery one, Holly Go­lightly!

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