Thanks For The Breath Of Fresh Air, Child
Entire Album, Zipped (YSI)
:: Lying Here Loving You ::
:: Goodbye Unspoken ::
:: Cross Country Driver ::
:: She's My Lady ::
:: Sweet Street Lady ::
:: Dues ::
:: Let My Imagination ::
:: Also Ran ::
:: Goodlight (Show Me Home) ::
:: Picture of Mom And Dad ::
Note from Tony: Alec is a good friend of ours who shares a similar interest in weird and wonderful vinyl, and whose ".25¢ Record Collection" CD's have amused and bemused us for years. If it weren't for people like him, we wouldn't be doing shit like this. This is his first post for us, but we hope he'll be doing more. Take it away, Alec...
The Mark Holly album is an interesting specimen, which is not an easy feat considering he's a kind of soft rock-ish songwriter from 1973. He has a decent voice, is a competent songwriter, and the album is well-produced. Much of it is so competent, in fact, that it would otherwise blend into the vinylscape unnoticed and unnoteworthy, if it were not for a few peculiar distinctions.
First there is that amazing cover photo, where he's wearing a black belt over a beige jumpsuit. He stands there, clearly in a rather low-rent photo studio, in front of a blue pull-down backdrop, striking a pose that announces his readiness to take on the world. But there's that jumpsuit, and that ruddy, boy scoutish face…something's not right. And then there's the record company logo, Grit Records. Isn't it exactly the same as that phony Grit newspaper they used to try to get kids to sell? They used to advertise in comic books with an ad that said "Everyone loves GRIT!" Even as a ten-year-old I knew Grit was bunk.
The brief liner notes on the back cover tell us that Mark originally hailed from St. Petersburg, Florida, then moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where it is readily admitted that "life for Mark was very difficult here." It seems like a strange detail to include, when you only have one paragraph to promote the artist. But that's nothing when, a few lines later, we learn that "a two year stint in the Navy ended tragically with his internment in the Neuro-Psychiatric ward of the Philadelphia Naval Hospital." What?! These grim facts are laid out side by side with checking off other details like club dates, moving to L.A., and fronting a group that opened for "The Rolling Stones" – in quotation marks, making one wonder if that really happened or not. I've done a few online searches for Mark Holly but haven't turned up anything, other than someone selling another copy for sixty bucks, noting that Larry Carlton is on it (true), and classifying the record as "RARE". Perhaps "OBSCURE" is more accurate, but clearly I'm not a salesman. Nor am I a rare record collector – I got my copy for twenty-five cents. But I do keep it in a plastic bag and treasure it. It's not like it's about to come out on CD with bonus tracks anytime soon.
Like the liner notes and the cover photo, the songs alternate between two distinct approaches: trucker-type numbers about "bein' on the road" and "payin' dues" as a traveling musician, counterbalanced with soft, sensitive ballads. The swaggering numbers are, unsurprisingly, not all that convincing, but Mark Holly's kind of like a kid on the block you can't help but tolerate because he's so harmless. It's impossible to not see that he's just a well-meaning, rather innocent guy who has a fantasy of being a really cool touring musician. And if the liner notes are true, he did do some touring. But the innocence never rubbed off, somehow – most of Mark's traveling songs eventually confess to falling head over heels for some random tramp met along the way, who, he always seems to assume, has probably already forgotten him.
Although I've had this record for years, it has only been in the last few weeks that I've listened to all of it. I was mesmerized all this time by "Lying Here Loving You," which displays an amazing imbalance of studio session cheese, David Gates-ish sincerity, and then one magnificent vocal performance gaffe. Not precisely a gaffe; more an eyebrow-raising, highly questionable stylistic choice: the way he suddenly floors it on the word "me." It's that unexpected surge that makes the song so fantastic and memorable. The dramatic bridge in "Sweet Street Lady" comes close to this pinnacle, but "Lying Here Loving You" is really the gem.
Many of the other songs might be quaint but forgettable if not for those liner notes and that cover photo, which after awhile become a little bit haunting. You begin to wonder if there aren't far darker implications in lines like "I wonder if I'll ever know the man I thought I was" and "Just a picture of Mom and Dad/The only love you ever had." But overall, the record makes for pleasant, sunny Saturday listening, some of the guilty pleasure variety, some tinged with greater irony than that - I mean, periodically Mark Holly adopts an unconvincing penchant for lingo, replete with an unnatural twangy accent, and there's a big Jesus number that kicks off side two. But after awhile, his genial songs just appeal to you directly, and that tinge of irony kind of 'does a fade.'