Personnel: Rick Holmstrom (vocals, guitar); Jeff Turmes (slide guitar, saxophone, acoustic bass, electric bass, background vocals); Stephen Hodges (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixers: Doug Boehm; Rick Holmstrom.
Recording information: Pacifica Studios; Sound Factory, Hollywood, CA; The Hobby Shop Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographer: Susan Cannon.
"Rick reminds me of my Pops. He's got that soulful feeling." "Pops" would be Pops Staples, and that quote comes courtesy of his daughter Mavis, who has employed Rick Holmstrom as her guitarist since 2007. In just a few words she perfectly describes his reverb-heavy, spacious R&B sound. He and his band also appeared on 2010's Jeff Tweedy-produced Staples' album You Are Not Alone, so it's no surprise that she guests on Holmstrom's first solo release in five years to sing lead on two of its hottest tracks. Drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist/saxist Jeff Turmes fill out the rest of the stripped-down trio, adding heft to a dozen original tunes that are blues based, but not in expected ways. Holmstrom has typically pushed the limits of his blues roots, most controversially on 2002's loop-laden and generally successful genre-combining experiment Hydraulic Groove. He was influenced by Tweedy, in addition to an appreciation for Neil Young, to write non-blues songs applying his unique guitar stylings to appeal to an expanding audience that would include those outside of his established blues/soul base. Unfortunately, he is hamstrung by vocals that are adequate but far from compelling, lyrics that occasionally fall on the clunky side, and a few compositions that seem more like sketches or outlines that need more work. Thankfully, these are typically rescued by his and the bands' always sympathetic and in-the-pocket playing. Still, the album's highlights, such as the low-boil funk of "It's Time I Lose," the more straightforward shuffle of "Creepin' In" (where he lets loose on a stunning, sizzling solo), and the Staples' tracks, make this a generally terrific, if somewhat inconsistent listen. The always restless Holmstrom is just too talented and restrained to release anything less than professionally crafted, and even if every tune here isn't top-notch, the album is never less than enjoyable. The closing atmospheric, almost experimental instrumental "Luellie" is another direction he could explore more fully on future releases. [A deluxe version of this album includes a second disc with a dozen instrumental covers of classic American R&B and gospel tunes, including songs from Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Johnny Cash, is also available and is well worth the few extra bucks.] ~ Hal Horowitz