Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs Medicine County

[Transdreamer; 2010]

Styles: country blues, retro, folk
Others: Kelly Hogan, Neko Case, Billy Childish

The British have an interesting history of taking up older or overlooked American music forms and reconfiguring them to their own ends. Revisionists will want to remind us that garage bands and close-to-the-source rural musicians never stopped playing folk and blues for appreciative audiences, and while that’s true, it’s also undeniable that UK bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Yardbirds helped introduce these styles to younger Yanks. And 45 years after the British Invasion, something unwaveringly appealing remains in those unlikely cross-culture records.

For 20 years, Holly Golightly has explored a similar path, first as a member of the Billy Childish-affiliated girl-group Thee Headcoatees and then as a solo artist since 1995. What’s interesting is that while the 60s groups looked to contemporary or, at best, 10- to 15-year-old R&B, country, rock ’n’ roll, folk, and blues records — music many of them grew up listening to — Golightly draws from the very same period, as if the past half century had never happened. She especially seems a peer to groups like The Kinks, since she covers so many of the tunes that act as her inspiration. But what looks on paper (or computer screen) like another exercise in nostalgia fortunately sounds on record (or MP3) a lot livelier and inspired than just another stuck-in-the-past act.

Golightly has always had country music influences, but recently she’s moved a whole lot closer to rural American music since performing with The Brokeoffs (old collaborator Lawyer Dave). She lives on a farm in rural Georgia now and recorded Medicine County in an abandoned church there; neat facts, maybe, but probably negligible to the sound of this album. She’s made a career out of playing with genre conventions, has obviously always adored American roots music, and certainly didn’t need to move to the South to “authenticate her soul.” She treats the music respectfully, without succumbing to the adoration or reverence that makes similar attempts sound so stilted. And though there’s rarely a hint of irony or tongue-in-cheek-ness to her music, it’s infused throughout with a sense of fun and adoration.

So fully has she absorbed the sound and temperament of country and blues that the eight original songs on Medicine Country are hardly differentiated from the two traditionals and two covers. Her songwriting displays the concern with religion (“When He Comes”), courtship (“Two Left Feet”), heartbreak (“Forget It”), drinking (“Medicine County”), and humor (take your pick) prevalent in old school country, and the music covers everything from the dirtier barroom/rockabilly side of country blues to folk tunes, reels, and ballads. Lawyer Dave sings quite a bit, which is fitting for an album primarily concerned with love affairs between men and women gone wrong (and occasionally right), and his voice sounds fine dueting with Golightly. But it’s her show, of course, and as her voice ranges from rough to cool to cooing, you might pause to consider both how long it’s been with us and how rarely it gets singled out as a unique instrument.

It’s hard to see Medicine County winning her any new fans, but for existing ones it’s a welcome release that shows her moving further into Americana (more in the old school sense, but, sure, in the No Depression sense, too.) I’d probably be considered a casual fan, though even a hardcore one would have to admit that her records can suffer a bit from lack of variety. That’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed her recent turn to more country-based material; it’s still unmistakably her, but she’s drawing from another, nearby well that ultimately shares the same source.

Links: Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs - Transdreamer

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