David Holt & the Lightning Bolts,
David Holt & the Lightning Bolts
(High Windy Audio, 2006)

David Holt performs traditional Appalachian music, but no one would mistake him for Ralph Stanley or Roscoe Holcomb or Dock Boggs. His is no fierce, menacing, guilt-haunted, God-stalked, old-weird-America approach. Holt has had tragedies in his life -- an unimaginably dreadful one inspired his previous album, Let It Slide (High Windy, 2005) -- but his voice is smooth and warm, and his music is mostly sunshine and good humor. Sometimes it sounds, in fact, something like a 21st-century take on the folk-lite of the Kingston Trio and its long-forgotten clones from nearly half a century ago.

Yet Holt's music is informed by his lifelong commitment to the culture of the mountain South. He is no tourist; as a carrier, performer and educator of musical traditions, he is not just passing through. He's oak-sturdy, and he's liked and respected by the finest, including roots-music giant Doc Watson, with whom he has recorded and often tours. He is also an accomplished instrumentalist, adept at various stringed instruments at which he's so at ease that you don't realize unless you listen closely just how good he is. He's sort of an ambassador in service to the old-time people who created and preserved these ballads and songs, and probably a significant portion of a typical Holt audience is hearing them for the first time.

On this album he fronts a four-piece band, augmented on some cuts by others, namely Kenny Malone (percussion), Jack Pearson (electric guitar), Todd Meade (acoustic bass) and Chuck Cochran (piano). The Bolts are Josh Goforth (guitar, fiddle and mandolin), Laura Boosinger (banjo and guitar), Zeb Holt (bass) and David Cohen (percussion). They amble through some Southern folk chestnuts, including the groan-inducingly over-covered "Cuckoo," and some more modern material, including the Crystal Gayle country-pop hit (an Allen Reynolds composition) "Ready for the Times to Get Better." To me, the most interesting cuts are "The Titanic" and "Johnson Boys," both set in surprisingly innovative arrangements, the latter performed -- strikingly -- with mouth bow and clay drum.

Always effective with this sort of material, the veteran Boosinger steps forward to do the vocals on the sentimental heart song "Nobody's Darlin' but Mine," which has one of the prettiest melodies in the world. In the liner notes, where he credits the tune to Jimmie Davis (who published it in 1935, though stylistically it could easily have come from a hundred years before), Holt adds -- incorrectly -- that Davis "also wrote 'You Are My Sunshine.'" It would be more accurate to state that Davis claimed to have written "Sunshine." It is also virtually certain he didn't.

John Hadley's "Amarillo Jack" surely has missed its mark by many years. Except for the fiddle, it is a dead-on Kingston Trio number, the like of which one rarely encounters these days outside, perhaps, a Kingston Trio concert (and a group calling itself by that name -- albeit with no original members -- still tours). I don't mean this snidely; no less than Bob Dylan speaks favorably of the KT. "Stagger Lee," too, gets the sort of lighter-than-air treatment one associates more with chipper folk-scare outfits than with hard-core performers recounting the grim particulars of a real-life 1890s murder in a St. Louis ghetto. I've heard all of those dark versions, and hearing it done otherwise causes me no distress. Fun is good, and David Holt & the Lightning Bolts have no dark clouds and thunder in them.

by Jerome Clark
23 December 2006