Although he may already be familiar to some as producer Jazzelicious (aka The Tao of Groove), multi-instrumentalist Roy Shakked also records retro-influenced pop albums under the moniker of Holmes. His earlier works in this field have gained comparisons to Ben Folds and Beck. Since Holmes was already working on new self-penned material in 2011, this third record – made up of cover tunes – is essentially a stop-gap. That’s not to say it’s in any way inferior; across thirteen tracks, Holmes painstakingly recreates some very familiar artists work, often in his own image and while it was recorded in a home studio on a small budget, it still sounds like an expensive, very professional recording.
Fancy hearing Ice Cube’s ‘It Was a Good Day’ in the style of Ben Folds? That’s precisely how Holmes chooses to make his entrance on this release! The general pace is similar to that of Ice Cube’s original track, but in place of the big beats Holmes strikes some crystal clear piano chords. Naturally, Ice Cube’s spoken delivery is dumped in favour of a vastly superior sung vocal. The combination of piano, strong vocal and funky basslines makes a great opening number. As with Folds’s own similar version of Dr Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’, it has to be said the bad language really greats within such perfect power pop confines – but there’s no getting around that if these things are to be done properly. A low-key rendition of INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’ feels unsettling at first, with Holmes choosing a piano style which sounds as if it’s been lifted from a John Carpenter horror movie, but the addition of accordion and bass soon gives things a distinctly European flavour. By the end of the first chorus, it’s quickly obvious this isn’t about to break into anything grander. How Holmes decided the song would fall so easily into such cinematic spaciousness shows great imagination and foresight: while he should get kudos for thinking way outside the box, the jury is out as to whether it works or not. It’s certainly the polar opposite to Powerman 5000’s hugely straight-ahead cover of ‘Devil Inside’.
It would have been too predictable for Holmes to take ‘Why Didn’t You Call Me’ by Macy Gray and base it around a funky electric piano/clavichord arrangement a la Stevie Wonder. That’s probably why he’s decided it would work even better as a raucous glam-rock stomper! Combining fuzzy guitars with a nice live sound in the rhythm department really gives this track an edge without ever sacrificing melody. Buried somewhere in the mix there’s also a stabbing keyboard which is augmented by handclaps; in all, it’s a fantastic track – a great and very inventive take on one of Gray’s best numbers. The electric piano that was so expected on the Macy Gray number makes a belated appearance throughout ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. This maudlin, yet still brilliant, run-through of Elvis Presley’s 1956 track couldn’t be farther from The King’s recording if it tried. In a slowed down, thoughtful rendition, it actually owes far more to the works of Electric Light Orchestra and Wings as it does the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. At a slow pace, it really hammers home the sentiment behind the lyric. This kind of reimaging works in a similar fashion to Howie Day’s cover of The Beatles’ ‘Help’ and comes far better suited to the lyrical content. Move over Cheap Trick – your cover isn’t really needed any more. Holmes takes a similarly perverse approach to the Genesis hit ‘That’s All’, where he throws away the distinctive piano riff and replaces it with acoustic guitars. Essentially a lightweight hoedown, it works well in this format, particularly with a twanging upright bass with banjos and dobros flesh out the sound. Even without its overly familiar piano part, this will be just as instantly recognisable to Genesis fans due to Holmes’s insistence on retaining all of the original song’s vocal melodies.
The second hit by synth-pop duo Yazoo (Yaz in the US) is reworked here as a bouncy piece of pop which melds a strong bassline with an acoustic guitar part which sits somewhere between a latin shuffle and cocktail lounge music. A mid section with a jazzy piano interlude pushes the envelope of invention even father, but perhaps the tracks biggest quirk comes from Holmes taking the original synth line and reworking it in to a counter-vocal. This is something which works just brilliantly. There are a few 80s synths scattered around the place – complete with a tone befitting a Vince Clarke composition – but they don’t necessary turn up where expected! With some of the off-beat elements at the centre of most of these covers, you’d expect Holmes to have an absolute field day with a Queen number, and yet on his recording of ‘Bicycle Race’, he plays things as straight as possible – perhaps just as Jellyfish would have done, had they ever thought to record it. The multi-layered vocals are pleasing; in fact, although it’ll never replace the Queen original in your affections, the whole arrangement is tight. The only major change comes during the fast section, where Holmes replaces Brian May’s chorus pedals with some jarring seventies keyboards. On the whole, this cover shows a great respect and an even stronger love for one of the world’s greatest bands – more respect than Brian May and Roger Taylor have given the Queen name since Freddie Mercury’s untimely departure…
A brave version of Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ takes what was always essentially a piece of fun (but somewhat self-indulgent) seventies pop and twists it into an a cappella workout. The adventurous approach of taking about a dozen different vocals and then going crazy with them in the studio really suits Holmes. Despite dispensing with the orchestrated elements and various layers of the Jeff Lynne original, against the odds, this version still features nearly every nuance of the main part of the familiar ELO number. It sounds as if it took a long time to piece together, but it was definitely worth the effort. It mightn’t be as wondrously off-the-wall as Petra Haden’s similar re-working of the whole of The Who’s ‘Sell Out’ LP, but the love for this track really comes through.
Covers albums either work or they don’t, but this one certainly falls into the first category. While 2011 saw more than enough covers albums hit the market, this one by Holmes is not to be missed. Throughout, Holmes shows a strong sense of musical vision and puts his studio know-how to fantastic use. Classy pop arrangements, other people’s material and a bit of imagination have rarely sounded so good.