I'm immune to marketing. While my wife and son thrill at the prospect of gorging on Doritos Locos Tacos, marveling at the concept of taco shells made out of Doritos and demanding we plan road trips around lunch at Taco Bell, I'm unmoved. But when a band names itself after a Bob Dylan song, particularly one of the Nobel laureate’s most depressing, I have to check them out.
And I’m glad I did check out Hollis Brown, a relatively new band from New York City with an old sound. How old? The band’s second record is a track-for-track cover of the Velvet Underground’s 1970 album, Loaded, entitled Hollis Brown Gets Loaded. Talk about old school. But more about that in a minute.
The track that made me a believer in Hollis Brown is “Wait For Me Virginia” from the band’s 2015 record, 3 Shots. I’ve been waiting a long time for “Wait For Me Virginia.” It's fresh, blues-infused classic rock complete with two monster guitar solos, including that long-lost foundation of the art form: the outro solo. Man, I love it! Check out this jam.
Hollis Brown’s debut album, Ride On The Train (2013), is a solid effort start to finish. I particularly like the groovy “Gypsy Black Cat.” When I played the track for my brother, he described it as a bad Tom Petty song. But don’t let that put you off. I learned years ago that my older sibling is not infallible. He still has Cake in his musical rotation. Plus, even a bad Tom Petty song can go down easy. That’s why he’s in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. See what you think of this live version.
Speaking of the Rock Hall, Hollis Brown clearly shares my infatuation with the Velvet Underground. Covering the entire Loaded album? That's some serious love. As hard core Fine Tuning fans know, I have developed a heuristic for determining when it's appropriate to cover a song, the idea being the most successful covers are of (a) obscure songs, or (b) well known songs interpreted anew and left unrecognizable. And if you cover an obscure tune in a completely new way you really have something special which is why for my money the greatest rock ‘n roll cover song is Rage Against The Machine’s utter dismantling of Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” On the other hand, covering classics in an undifferentiated manner is the musical equivalent of Gary Johnson’s presidential run – a waste of time and potentially dangerous.
Even though Hollis Brown Gets Loaded hews very closely to Loaded (other than sequencing the tracks in reverse order for some reason), most of the songs on Loaded are obscure. Heck, most of the VU catalogue is obscure. You rarely, if ever, hear VU on the radio – terrestrial or satellite.
One notable exception is “Sweet Jane” which you do hear from time to time. I was duly nervous about cuing up Hollis Brown’s version, particularly since “Sweet Jane” is my favorite song – all time. Covering it is like playing with fire. But I must say, I really like Hollis Brown’s version. Even though it defies my cover song heuristic by recording a classic without much variation, there are just enough subtle differences to make it work for me. Specifically, the addition of piano in the last verse before the coda, played staccato, along with some kind of percussion instrument reminiscent of cow bell, gives it pop. Check it out here.
Hollis Brown gives all the songs on Loaded a freshness that brings the record squarely into the modern era. The extended jams on “Cool It Down” (click here) and “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” (click here) will leave you smiling.
If you need more convincing to check out Hollis Brown, consider they've opened for no less than three Fine Tuning Favorites: Lucero, Heartless Bastards and Deer Tick. Enough said. Enjoy!