LIVING BLUES review of Holdin’ On
By David Whiteis, June 2008
On the cover of this CD Jim Greene sits on the hood of a vingtage T-Bird, his acoustic guitar in his hand; on the inner sleeve he’s pictured straddling a motorcycle with his axe slung over his shoulder. It’s an effective alternative to the faux-“authentic” bib-overalls-and-dirt-roads setting in which acoustic revivalists are too often portrayed.
Musically, as well, the set moves beyond the usual Delta cliches. Greene and pianist Christopher Walz sound as if they’re channeling the spirit of Hoagy Carmichael on Greff Allman’s Please Call Home; a similar sepia-tinged sweetness informs Percy Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone To Love- arguably draining the song of its emotional impact, but providing an undeniably pleasant musical experience. On rootsier material-an appropriately jivey take on Rober Johnso’s Hot Tamale; the Memphis Jug Band’s Jug Band Music; Blind Boy Fulle’s Custard Pie- Greene summons more grit, but even here his smooth musicianship bespeaks a decidedly modern, urbane sensibility.
Greene fingerpicks and flails away on the traditional offerings with jubilant dexterity, and on the more uptown fare he shows an admirably subtle melodic and harmonic imagination. His sidemen-especially pianist Walz and harpist/washboardist Rick “Cookin” Sherry-kick in with unerring aplomb. But especially in his vocals, Greene struggles to delver this material in a way that doesn’t sound mannered. Rather than inhabit the persona of the God-haunted sinner of the spiritual Death Comes A-Creepin’ or the lascivious backwoods lech of Fuller’s Custard Pie, he ends up imitating them, as if he were a somewhat unsure actor playing a role.
Jim Greene has the ability and taste to bring new life and mew perspective to tried-and-true material both recent and vintage. His challenge now, like that of all revivalists, is to find a way to negotiate the inevitable tension between his obvious affection for his material and his personal remoteness from the social and cultural milieu from which it originally arose.