Lonnie Holley @ Valentine’s 8/6/2014

The  other night I got an invitation to see Lonnie Holley from my friend Arya Imig at Valentine’s downtown. I had actually never heard of Lonnie Holley prior to that, but his story and my impression of one of his songs intrigued me. It was a relatively early show that started at 8:30 and had ended by 9:20. It was really a very special and intimate night– I had a lot of fun taking Mr. Holley’s work in.

Holley is an artist and art educator who has been active since the late seventies. Most of his work concentrates on working with found objects, painting, and sculpture. Just 2 years ago, Holley tried his hand at recorded music with Just Before Music. He followed it up with Keeping a Record of It last year. Holley’s turn as a composer is very satisfying to behold.

Holley’s music is very serene, spacey soul-jazz influenced music. He comes off to me as the sort of person who would not like his music being classified as “experimental”, and would probably find it to be annoying and ironic that work that is so focused on education and community would be thought of as “outsider music”. Like Exuma or Captain Beefheart, he’s a soulful artist with a pantheistic, abstractly-minded perspective and chosen way of expressing himself– as was the case with those two sadly departed luminaries, he is certainly an “outsider” in the sense of the difference of his point of view to that of society at large, but really, he works off of a musical idiom that is for “the people”. Maybe in a better world he would not really be so much of an outsider.

The songs are often slightly didactic in their tone, which is not surprising, considering that Holley has worked as an art educator for many years. “Extra! Extra! Read all about it…” was the chorus of one of the songs he played, one that seemed to be alluding to the crisis on the West Bank– a lot of Holley’s music is like this, a call to action, or at least to awareness. A need for humanity to educate itself and disseminate knowledge rightly is probably the central theme of his work, and technological concerns as well as other observations about the earth and human society dominate the subject matter of his lyrics. The structure of his songs is fairly open and unhindered– Holley’s wizened voice dangles poetry over simple lines on keys and trumpet. For this show, Holley brought along drummer Stevie Nistor and trumpeter Kelly Pratt. The trio occasionally conjured up impressions of Sun Ra’s space jazz. Improvisation figures heavily in Holley’s style as a performer. “Looking For All (All Rendered Truth)” in particular, was a highlight that I’ll remember for years to come. Later, after the show, he gave out elbow bumps to much of the crowd, including me and some of my friends! It was a night of joyful music and I’m glad that I was there to experience it.

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