Altered Awareness 

The Black Hollies: Looking Backward

"The compositions on Casting Shadows, are entirely sexual, sincere, and honest," writes Justin Morey via email, and that's as good a place as any to begin.

Morey is the vocalist, bassist, and songwriter for the Black Hollies, a four-piece rock band dwelling in assorted parts of New York and New Jersey. The group has two albums to their credit: 2005's Crimson Reflections, a tightly honed collection of songs equally garage based and Cream observant, and last year's aforementioned Casting Shadows, which broadens their sound into more expansive, psychedelic territories. That "psychedelic" can be taken literally; in fact, the album's packaging incorporates a glossary of Hollies-oriented drug references. ("Turn On: to alter awareness, with the Black Hollies.")

Morey cites "our love and appreciation of old '60s soul 45s in conjunction with love and respect for each other as artists," as the initial impetus for the group's formation. He, along with guitarists Herbert Wiley V and Jon Gonnelli, first interacted musically in the noisier, less restrained Rye Coalition. Morey recalls following "my instincts for pop arrangements and solid vocal harmonies. The combination of that blueprint in conjunction with a solid rhythm section, similar to mid-'60s era Motown, didn't appear to hurt us at all."

It's a difficult line to tread when a band hearkens back to a past era's music. Casting Shadows' packaging solidly approximates the feel of a late-'60s LP, down to the presence and tone of the liner notes, and scuff marks and creases incorporated behind lyrics and photographs. The group as a whole sounds neatly self-assured on their albums, and while their compositions don't bear a trace of irony, there is an undeniable sense of humor present. It's a subtle difference, but the band's clear enjoyment of the music that they're playing is clear throughout. That said, it's Morey's lyrics, full of surreal and ominous imagery, that stay in the mind the longest, as does his willingness to abandon the more traditional frontman swagger for a more conciliatory approach. Refreshingly, looking backward doesn't always mean rote emulation.

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