Album of the Week: Lonnie Holley

So-called outsider art, or Art Brut, or naïve art, self-taught, etc, are terms used to describe artists who did not go to Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. That’s a joke, sorta, but I always found these terms a bit cagey and to some extent simply labels put on things in order to sell them. Lonnie Holley, the 7th of 27 children, began making art at the age of 29 when he carved tombstones for his sister’s two children, who died in a house fire. Once he started, he never stopped.

This fact, more than any other, represents a meaningful category, at least for me. If we look at the work of Adolf Wölfli, Henry Darger, or Ferdinand Cheval, we also find an incessant need to create.

I find great beauty in these works and it’s no wonder the music of Lonnie Holley follows suit. Hollie released his first album in 2012 and Mith, his new album released on Jagjaguwar, is one long pounding beautiful release. Hollie plays keyboards, sings, howls, growls, and rages while guests Laraaji, jazz duo Nelson Patton, producer Richard Swift, saxophonist Sam Gendel, and producer/musician Shahzad Ismaily add to the maelstrom.

From the label:

Across these songs, in an impressionistic poetry all his own, Holley touches on Black Lives Matter (“I’m a Suspect”), Standing Rock (“Copying the Rock”) and contemporary American politics (“I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America”). A storyteller of the highest order, he commands a personal and universal mythology in his songs of which few songwriters are capable — names like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom and Gil Scott-Heron come to mind.

Repetition and hovering around a chord (see Giacinto Scelsi) can be meditative and soothing, while also being disruptive and angry. Music’s many languages speaking to matters beyond words. Listen loud, listen long and you may find release.