Mojo (UK)

High wire act

Another electrifyi­ng blast of political exorcism and spiritual redemption from the American South’s septuagena­rian survivor hero. By Andrew Perry.


Lonnie Holley ★★★★ Oh Me Oh My JAGJAGUWAR. CD/DL/LP

AN EXTRAORDIN­ARY multi-disciplina­ry artist storied for his deprived upbringing in 1950s Alabama, Holley, now 73 and resident in Atlanta, Georgia, has been a key trailblaze­r for improvised music since making his recording debut on two visionary early-2010s albums for Dust To Digital.

There, as with his visual art, the self-taught pianist collaged sound in-the-moment, while voicing meditation­s on a childhood of prejudice and neglect, on earthly transience, and the human spirit’s indestruct­ibility.

In the years following his ‘discovery’, Holley has collaborat­ed widely, with a cast list ranging from Julia Holter and Daniel Lanois through to Animal Collective and Laraaji. As his star has risen within the alt-community, so has his political vehemence increased (see the raging I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America off 2018’s MITH), and his musical palette broadened.

On BrokEn MIrror: A SElfiE REflECtIon, 2021’s pulsating team-up with Virginian blue-eyed soulman Matthew E White, the most apposite reference was Miles Davis’s On The Corner, but

Oh Me Oh My, finally, is an attempt to present this hugely connective arriviste in a more marketable, mainstream context.

His fourth LP proper was overseen by Jacknife Lee, a widely experience­d producer whose CV includes U2 and The Killers, and it duly packages Holley’s spiralling free-associativ­e craft as 11 bite-sized chunks across 50 minutes, each reined in under the six-minute mark.

Holley’s skronkier-leaning fanbase may feel, on first listen, that he’s had his wings clipped of the extemporis­ed liberty of, say, the 25-minute Planet Earth And Otherwhere­s off 2012’s Just

BEForE MusIC. They may even suspect he’s being gentrified for radio considerat­ion.

On Oh Me, Oh My, Holley’s joined by reclusive star guest and fellow denizen of the Peach State, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe intones the track’s title balefully throughout, while Holley himself digs deep into memories of how “grandmama used to be down on her knees”, his voice rising to a pained growl auspicious­ly reminiscen­t of another of America’s great on-the-fly singspeaki­ng sufferers, Suicide’s Alan Vega.

Where previous records have naturally employed electric and acoustic jazz instrument­ation, here that hovering synth-washed atmosphere which dominates 2020s music creeps in, notably for further guest spots from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and a keening Sharon Van Etten, pitching Oh Me Oh My’s second half into a mood of haunting gravitas.

On side one, by contrast, two appearance­s from Moor Mother’s Camae Ayewa – an avant-jazz poet whose notion of Black Quantum Futurism surely resonated with Holley – inject a fabulously funky cosmic swing in the ballpark of Sun Ra’s SpACE Is THE PlACE.

With Caspar Brötzmann Massaker-style improv-rock also detonating on Alabama cruelty exorcism Mount Meigs, you really do have no idea what’s coming next. In that regard, it’s another uniquely memorable record, encapsulat­ing its creator’s restless spirit.

 ?? ?? Southern cosmic: Oh Me Oh My encapsulat­es Lonnie Holley’s restless spirit.
Southern cosmic: Oh Me Oh My encapsulat­es Lonnie Holley’s restless spirit.
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