Mark Holt &
Kimberlee Holt Tully,
Acoustically Native
(self-produced, 2003)

Mark Holt and Kimberlee Holt Tully are a brother-sister musical team originally from Idaho. They claim a number of influences: bluegrass, folk, Merle Haggard, Sammy Davis Jr. and others. Their debut album, Acoustically Native, with songs by Marty Robbins, Gregg Alman, Jerry Hayes, Kris Kristofferson and others (including Holt), with Holt's vocals and a strong supporting cast, provides a survey of what their music is about.

Holt and Holt Tully (percussion), are joined on this one by Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin; Mark Fain on bass; Randy Kohrs on dobro; Scott Vestal on 5-string banjo; Pete Huttlinger on acoustic guitars; Tim Tappan on piano; and Kathy Chiavola on backing vocals.

Given the fashionable necessity (or necessary fashion, if you prefer) for disclosure/disclaimers, it's only fair to state early on that I am not a big fan of country music, which this album most certainly is. (This in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- having grown up with it.) I should also note that Frank Sinatra sets my teeth on edge, so it was with some trepidation that I noted the "Frank Sinatra Medley" at track 10. Nevertheless....

Holt necessarily takes center stage here: he is the vocalist, and he is front and center. The opening cut, Marty Robbin's "El Paso City," gets a rendering that owes as much, I think, to Bob Dylan as to anyone else: Holt's phrasing and delivery have that kind of rushed, urban-folk quality that Dylan made his own. This one is a seductive lead-in -- Holt and Chiavola pull out all the stops, sliding and growling and yodeling their way through the song. Gregg Alman's "Midnight Rider," next up, is a treat, with some amazing work on the banjo and guitar under Holt's vocals.

The first of Holt's songs presented, "One Last Dance," gives a glimpse of some real talent, both in the songwriting and in the vocals. Holt's high, somewhat nasal voice shows itself to be a versatile instrument, providing the means by which Holt reaches out and grabs the listener, and grab he does. It's a terrific song. Jerry Hayes' "Roll'n with the Flow," which is a song I've always enjoyed, gets a solid rendering.

The quality of the music and playing is consistently high throughout the album. Another of Holt's songs, "All Over Now," gets my vote as one of the real highlights in this collection. Holt, in addition to his command of all the grace notes of country singing, comes out as a remarkably intelligent and sensitive performer on this one, even more than the other cuts. Kristofferson's "Why Me Lord" gets a compelling treatment. This is what the country ballad is all about. (Strangely enough, I prefer Holt on the ballads, which is unusual for me: there is a genuineness to his singing that really makes itself felt here.)

And then, the "Frank Sinatra Medley." Holt's voice takes on a lost quality in "One More for the Road" that adds another layer of irony to a song that is world-weariness made palpable; the combination with "The Way You Look Tonight" gives a hint as to why he's out drinking. Add another point for versatility: it's a great track.

Nothing on this album really made my hair stand up, but I can appreciate quality when I hear it, and it is here in abundance. Holt is a very talented singer and songwriter, and the people backing him on this one are superb. Holt and Holt Tully deserve a wide audience, and I hope they get it.

- Rambles
written by Robert M. Tilendis
published 12 February 2005