Thursday, February 3, 2022

Hollis Brown - In The Aftermath

Hands up who’s got a copy of the Stones’ 1966 album Aftermath?  I don’t.  I’m guessing it’ll be the domain of greybeards even older than me, and completist fans.  Oh, and by the way, I’m talking about the American release of the album, which left out three tracks included on the UK version.  Okay, you can put your hands down now.
Why do I mention this?  Well, because In The Aftermath, the new album from Noo Yoikers Hollis Brown, is a re-creation of the Stones’ (US) album, which the HB crew apparently knocked together in the course of a 24-hour session, aided and abetted by buckets of booze.  Spoiler alert: it’s good fun!
Hollis Brown, looking full of the joys of Spring
Pic by Nick Karp
At first blush it seems like a bit of an odd thing to do.  But when I looked at the track listing, I found I was only familiar with three or four songs.  So the Hollis Brown fellas probably aren’t going to be encumbered by comparisons across all 11 tracks.  O
n the other hand though, as I was listening to In The Aftermath, I found myself wondering what these songs – some of them entirely new to me - said about the evolution of the Stones back in 1966.  It’s weirdly like trying to review two bands at the same time.
First things first though.  Hollis Brown get it.  They know how to rock’n’roll, and more besides.  Their take on ‘Stupid Girl’ is satisfyingly edgy, combining the choppy riff with twangy fills, making hay with its nap hand of hooky moments, and nailing the Beatle-ish bridge with harmonies.  Meantime ‘Doncha Bother Me’ is an old-school R’n’B stomp, with a scudding, Elmore James-ish slide riff.  Maybe my favourites in this vein though, are ‘Flight 505’ and ‘It’s Not Easy’.  The former is a breezy, Chuck Berry-ish romp, with a whomping backbeat from drummer Andrew Zehnal and a pinging, pinballing solo – job done in three minutes flat.  ‘It’s Not Easy’ has a propulsive, snapping rhythm too, to go with a chugging riff and ringing chords on the side, while Mike Montell delivers a characterful, semi-snarling vocal as it periodically threatens to break into‘Route 66’ in delightfully ramshackle style.
They can do the more novel stuff to good effect too though.  Dunno how they pull off the sitar element of ‘Paint It Black’, but they do, and knock it out in snappy fashion, with some fair old snare drum bashing from Zehnal, and a quivering urgency to Montell’s singing – capturing the Jagger vibe without, wisely, trying to mimic him.  ‘Lady Jane’ sounds like a faux English folk tune, with a rather naff courtly lyric, but they give it a suitably wistful air, with a patient guitar line and romantic strokes of piano.  Then they convey the vibrancy of ‘Under My Thumb’ to a tee, translating its signature marimba theme to electric piano, adding handclaps to another whacking beat, and finding plenty of rhythm guitar textures.  And the skiffling hoedown of ‘High And Dry’ feel like a boisterous pub session, all acoustic guitar spanking, squalls of harp, and honky tonk piano.
But back to the rock’n’roll voodoo that they do so well.  ‘Think’ may kick off in Fab Four spangly guitar fashion, but its chorus is jagged and Montell gives off a Jagger-ish whine at times, before lead guitarist Jonathan Bonella rips out a firecracker guitar break over scooting bass from Chris Urriola, in a dress rehearsal for the the 7-minute long closer ‘Goin’ Home’.  The latter starts off languidly enough, in a simple, British Invasion style, until a wiry solo from Bonella encourages them to wind things up into a frenetic garage rock rave-up, before collapsing over the line, spent.
Aftermath, the first all-original Stones album, evidently caught them in a state of songwriting flux, still revelling in Chicago blues crossed with Chuck and Bo, but with one ear on the Beatles and maybe the Kinks too, and with Brian Jones chucking different ingredients into the musical soup even as he was going off the rails.  Hollis Brown do all of that justice, and bring their own peppery energy to the table too.  In The Aftermath may be a tribute album, but it feels energised by the originals, not slavish.  It had me cueing up the old codgers’ 1981 live excursion Still Life for some extra satisfaction too.  Can't say fairer than that.

In The Aftermath is released by Cool Green Recordings/Mascot Label Group on 4 February, and can be ordered here.

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