“Hey listen, it’s gonna be one of those relaxed nights, you know,” says Southside Johnny, on the live album Reach Up And Touch The Sky. “You had Jackson Browne in here last night, and the Doobie Brothers. So we’re all gonna put on our earphones, and just relax, take it easy. Play a little West Coast – gimme a little West Coast rock’n’roll will you please?”
The Asbury Jukes make a desultory start on the opening chords to the Eagles’ ‘Take It Easy’, and Johnny tries out the first line. “Well I’m running down the road tryin’ to loosen my load,” he sings, before bringing matters to a swift “forget it” conclusion.
All of which is by way of saying that while Hollis Brown – named after a Dylan song – originated in Queens, New York, much of their latest album Ozone Park is redolent of 70s and 80s West Coast rock – bright, easygoing and melodic.
|Hollis Brown loosening their load
In fact the thought that immediately springs to mind with opening track ‘Blood From A Stone’ is Fleetwood Mac, not least because singer and guitarist Mike Montali’s voice is a dead ringer for Lindsey Buckingham. The chorus could easily fit into a Mac album of that vintage, while the verse features a neat progression and a tickle of funk. And the following ‘Stubborn Man’ is essentially out of the same box.
Their cover of Jesse Malin’s ‘She Don’t Love Me Now’ is slower and more Eagles-like, with acoustic rhythm guitar evident, and more pronounced use of harmonies. But lest you think they’re entirely stuck in the past, ‘Do Me Right’ makes use of some a couple of spikier, counterpointed, guitar lines from Jonathan Bonilla in addition to bubbling bass. It still evokes the 80s, but should also be amenable to fans of more recent fare like, say, Kings Of Leon. And both ‘Someday Soon’ and ‘The Way She Does It’ similarly hint at a more contemporary vibe. The former is spangly and airy, with a radio friendly melody and rinky-dink guitar line, like a more grown up but perhaps less original version of California’s Avi Buffalo. 'The Way She Does It', with its lazy backbeat and pulsing bass supporting a catchy chorus and more good use of harmonies, is the veritable sound of summer.
They go a bit further afield with ambient instrumental minimalism on the brief ‘After The Fire’, which is really just an intro to ‘Forever In Me’, a more ethereal ballad suggestive of Fleet Foxes, with slow electronic beats, and an echoing keening vocal before it picks up into acoustic strumming and some Adam Clayton-like bass.
The closing tracks aim for something edgier, ‘Bad Mistakes’ coming across as more jagged and modern, while ‘Go For It’ makes use of synthesizer and some glissando backing vocals, but is ultimately too nondescript to live up to its title.
Three-quarters of Ozone Park is a glossy, well-crafted re-reading of classic Adult Orientated Rock sounds, and hats off to Hollis Brown for the quality of some of the hooks they’ve come up with in the process. It’s just a pity they don’t manage to keep up the momentum right to the finish line.
Ozone Park is released on Cool Green Recordings/Mascot Label Group on 7 June.