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The Climb by Holly Holmes

Holly Holmes’ recording The Climb is an ambitious and inventive debut, combining standards, modern classics and pop songs. She has a Sheila Jordon like color and an adventuresome choice of songs in the vein of Cassandra Wilson and Nora York.

"Little Yellow Moons" is the highlight of the recording. This is a gem of a tune by songwriter Bill Caskey. The lyrics coupled with the accompanying accordion and percussion give the performance a warm, coffee shop feel. There are moments when her intonation wavers, but they are trumped by the songwriting and arrangement.

In light of the remarkable English version of "O Cantador" by Andy Bey, I’m a bit hesitant when American born singers sing in Portuguese, particularly with so many excellent Brazilian vocalists around. Ms. Holmes has most certainly done her homework, but I found the English verse stronger.

The jazz lyrical tradition is well honored in Ms. Holmes’ versions of Wayne Shorter’s "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and Pat Metheny’s "The Road to You." The introduction to "Never Will I Marry" has such a wonderfully tongue in cheek delivery; I caught myself laughing out loud. She explores her range of color and expression the most here. The arrangement of the tune is clever and fresh. Ms. Holmes handles the difficult melody deftly.

The two renditions of Stevie Nick’s "Landslide" are interesting. The melancholy and tender atmosphere Ms. Holmes creates is perfect for this song. The studio version, with prepared piano, e-bow and percussion is true to Ms. Nick’s sentiment while stretching out on its own. On the live version, the instrumentation, using acoustic and electric guitars, e-bow and percussion is truly lovely. The reharmonization feels a bit too forced on a simple song, but the thinking behind the arrangement is really creative.

Kudos to Ms. Holmes for scatting. It’s refreshing to hear a vocalist take chances - it certainly made me listen more closely. The solos have moments that are unsure harmonically and could use shape, but she’s on the right track to the improvisatory and arranging neighborhood of musicians like Dominique Eade.

The Climb is a lovely ride through the expanding universe of the jazz vocalist. The arrangements are attention grabbing while staying true to the compositions. Ms. Holmes possesses a voice that can move through a complex melody with confidence. Her band provides a strong background to her work, never obscuring her as the leader. She has a strong command of her vibrato and uses it tastefully. The Climb serves as an excellent introduction to an ambitious vocalist with a wide pallet and a sure future.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Holly Holmes
  • CD Title: The Climb
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Reissue Original Release: 2001
  • Record Label: a wHOLe MESs o me Records
  • Musicians: Brett Farkas (guitar) Chris Sargent (piano) Daniel Thatcher (bass) Quincy Davis (drums) Joe Ayoub (bass) Earlie Braggs (trombone) Bartosz Hadala (piano) Mark Zielger (bass) Fred Knapp (drums) Rob Cookman (accordion, piano) Bill Jones (guitars) Jeff Moehle (percussion) Kevin Garcia (percussion) Dan Kramlich (piano) Matthew Warnock (guitar) Jon Wert (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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