The Black Hollies: Softly Towards the Light


RIYL: The Beatles, Happy Mondays, The Takeover UK

Take the late ’60s Beatles and other British blues/psychedelia, shoot it through with early ’90s Madchester energy, add a sprinkle of indie pop sensibility and you get groovy if none-to-deep third album by the Black Hollies. Depth isn’t really necessary for this kind of album, though. Softly Towards the Light is so indebted to its sources that every track seems immediately recognizable, as if you’d heard these songs long ago sitting in front of your parent’s old hi-fi system as a kid. This immediately begs the question, “Why not listen to the originals, then?” and that is where that those “sprinkles” of modern production and indie introspection provide just enough of something different to make it resonate with today. Much of this can be attributed to Justin Angelo Morley’s breathy vocals, which carry a forceful earnestness that gives Doors-esque lines like “Lead me to the fire burning in your soul” an innocence rather than lustful intent. That is something that seems to be missing on Softly Towards… as British Blues had a earthy carnal quality, and Madchester was hedonistic in many ways, the Black Hollies bring a lighter touch that provides an airy, nothing short of happy feeling that is rare in pop music. Happy is usually relegated to overproduced, kid-smiley, bubblegum pop and not considered appropriate for adults. Here, this positive energy works extremely well with the counterpoint of Nicholas Ferrante’s bombastic drumming. The danceable, get-your-feet-moving pleasure of the Black Hollies can be credited to being caught up in Ferrante’s powerful rhythms that manages to ground them just enough to keep the rest of the band from floating away. The power tracks on the album that bring all of this together are the outstanding “Gloomy Monday Morning” in the number two slot, and “Number Ten Girl” with its soulful, darkly trippy groove.

All in all, Softly Toward the Light is an excellent album by the New Jersey quartet, and demonstrates not just a fidelity toward their sources and craft, but a real passion for making these classic sounds their own true expression. Ernest Jenning Record Co.

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