The legendary Lonnie Holley returns with Mith. It's an album filled with righteous fire aimed at the chaos and injustice of American life. His impassioned spoken word delivery gives topics like Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter the weight they deserve. As does the beefy instrumentation: wild drums, blasting horns, and always his own distinct piano improvisations. From the music to its lyrics, this is vital.
Staff note from Daoud :
Wow, I've not been this excited for a new album for ages. The lead single from MITH is 'I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America', and contained in those five and a half minutes is all the confusion and anger that title is getting at. Lonnie Holley's delivery steadily collapses into a furious growl all the while bolstered by gloriously manic drumming and shots fired through a trombone. Proper hair standing on end stuff.
Vinyl Double LP £24.49 JAG316LP-C1
Indies only smoke vinyl LP on Jagjaguwar housed in a gatefold tip-on uncoated jacket, with embossed gold sticker and 8-page booklet.
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Vinyl Double LP £24.49 JAG316LP
Black vinyl LP on Jagjaguwar housed in a gatefold tip-on uncoated jacket, with embossed gold sticker and 8-page booklet.
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CD £9.99 JAG316CD
CD on Jagjaguwar.
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Lonnie Holley has had a long and successful career, practicing as both a musician and as an artist since the 70s. So it should mean something when I say Mith must be one of his definitive works.
That Holley is a sculptor is unsurprising, particularly if you pay attention to how he uses his voice throughout the record. Lines regularly overlap and interweave, creating a very physical sensation of layer being applied to layer. What makes this all the more satisfying is his willingness to play with his voice. Within single lines Holley will open and close his throat and vary his distance from the microphone. He will let rip with deep throated guttural roars or wail cleanly. The voice is probably the most versatile instrument available to musicians, and Holley here offers us a chance to enjoy some of its more underused abilities. His piano playing offers something similar, grounding the pieces, but played so chaotically and unpredictably that it endlessly delights.
Perhaps my favourite of the elements that define Mith is the trombone. I may be biased (you see, I play one of the silly things), but the instrument's strengths are perfectly matched to what Holley is attempting here. The trombone is not as shrill as a trumpet, and its slide allows for woozy glissandos. On ‘I’m a Suspect’ this makes it perfect for the song's mournful and disorienting closing moments. The trombone is also more capable of bombast and pomp than the other members of its family. On ‘I Woke Up In a Fucked-Up America’ the instrument helps Holley detonate with righteous political fury.
And make no mistake, this album is political. Lonnie Holley is of course concerned with current circumstance of living in America. But he's an African American, and for him, America has always been fucked up. This most powerfully comes to the fore on the immense and heartbreaking ‘I Snuck Off the Slave Ship’ where Holley sings from the perspective of a slave who imagines escaping only to be confronted with the realisation that for him, the best he can do is “to sneak on another”.
But this album is not despondent. It’s energetic and energising. It’s defiant, and it’s beautiful.
9/10 Tony 9th October 2018
Lonnie Holley's new album delivers on all the promise of the first couple and his electrifying live show. No record can ever capture the excitement of improvised music but the production here, using a few additional instruments and some well crafted loops, leaves us with a record that is worth playing again and again.
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