This two track 7” by Holly Beth Vincent is an unexpected treat. Released a decade on from her ‘Minnesota-California’ album (a record that appears to have never made it past self-released CD-r status), these Travis Ramin produced tunes – first released via Ramo Records in 2012 – capture the one-time Holly & The Italians vocalist in a really sharp mood. Ramin’s studio techniques obviously have a hand in creating a pleasingly punchy sound and there are occasional parallels with his own recordings with Beebe Gallini and The Short Fuses, but that might amount to nothing if Holly weren’t in such interesting vocal shape.
Throughout ‘Hey Boy’, she slurs and sneers every syllable, as if channelling the ghost of Joey Ramone, or reminding the world that Brody Dalle isn’t quite the unique talent she’d have you believe. There’s plenty about her strange and lax presence that whips up a great unease, while her assembled band crank out some top notch garage rock riffs. Sure, the drums sometimes sound as if they’re bleeding through from another room, but a really upfront bass more than ensures the rhythm section attack with enough punch where it counts, while a world of buzzsaw guitar lines carry a future echo of things to come from Beebe Gallini. Hook-wise, it manages to be pretty alluring, despite Vincent’s insistence on a slightly alienating presence, and the chorus captures her in pleasingly sloppy harmony with a similarly detached backing vocal. Obviously, it isn’t as catchy as her well loved hit ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ (a hit in the UK for Transvision Vamp) but there’s definitely something at the heart of the semi-punky melody that sticks.
On the flip, ‘Smash’ serves up some great rock ‘n’ roll with a punky heart, on a tune where a world of muted guitar riffs powering the verse sound like a harder cousin to Holly’s musical past. Branching out from there, the track features some great instrumental breaks where a strident guitar and organ echo bits of The Short Fuses, but also have just enough of their own style to sound relevant here. Faced with this slightly more melodic backdrop, Vincent ups her game and finds more of a power pop voice, yet clings on to the sneer from before, creating a great hybrid sound that could vaguely be likened to a mature Brody Dalle fronting The Real Kids for that full on retro hit. Despite being pugged away as a b-side – or the supporting feature on Rum Bar Records’ digital reissue – it’s potentially the stronger of the two tunes.
Although Holly will always be best known for fronting Holly & The Italians in the early 80s and being the inspiration for the Dire Straits hit ‘Romeo & Juliet’, this pair of tracks makes an excellent addition to her catalogue. Despite being not much more than a bite sized treat, these recordings are a cast iron reminder of how important one of the new wave’s great heroines was, and in many ways, still is. Any promise within remains fleeting, however: although they very much sound like a precursor of even better things to come, Holly disappeared into the shadows again shortly after recording, leaving fans wanting so much more…
If you missed this at the time of its original release – as it seems that many people did – the digital reissue from 2022 couldn’t be more welcome. You can listen and download the tracks from the Bandcamp widget below.