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Lonnie Holley
MITH Luke Cartledge , October 15th, 2018 11:28

A vivid document of 2018 America from the veteran outsider musician

Lonnie Holley’s reputation precedes him: the cultish figure of the 68-year-old outsider artist, experimental musician, frequent collaborator and father to 15 children (himself one of 27) would seem parodically bohemian were it not for the very real hardships (bereavement, imprisonment, serious injury, to name a few) that have regularly befallen him. Yet this veteran has created a record that, far from being cartoonish or hackneyed, feels tangible and rings true.

Plangent, breathy piano work, reminiscent of Bill Evans’ playing on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, functions as an anchor for the impressionism of Holley’s arrangements. This record is less a linear sequence of songs than a carousel whose steady churn frequently jolts and seethes under the weight of thunderous percussion and guttural, verbose vocalisation.

Like Low’s recent Double Negative, MITH is a vivid document of a gaunt, ailing America. Both records subvert familiar ideas and textures, exposing the rot beneath the received wisdoms upon which so much social discourse is built; their near-simultaneous release seems apt. But there’s another key ingredient here: hope. Holley dives deep into his country’s ills (‘I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America’, ‘I’m A Suspect’), and then by the joyful ‘Sometimes I Wanna Dance’ he sounds liberated by the sheer chaos of the present, identifying its potential to trigger a fresh start. Whether or not you agree with that sentiment, his optimism feels refreshing and genuine.

MITH is an insightful record, one that gives its listener pause and feels like a valuable artefact of our time.