For Dandelion, her latest release on Yep Roc records, Claire Holley wanted to try something new. �I�d been admiring bands that could jam, where it was more about the feel of the live performance. I wanted that kind of energy in this record. I wanted to sing well-written songs, but I also wanted musicians playing in a room together, where they could make eye contact and change the way they approached the song based on what the other players were doing.� It was an inspired impulse, and has resulted in a record that blends Claire�s proven singing and songwriting talents with the tight, rollicky sound of a club band performance, a fresh and vibrant direction for a sensibility that brought Acoustic Guitar Magazine to call Holley �an observer, a romantic reporter from the backyards and front porches of the heartland.�
In this way Dandelion builds naturally but aggressively on the work of Claire�s previous, self-titled release from Yep Roc, a record that charmed critics and fans across the country, garnering national acclaim, including a feature on NPR�s Weekend Edition with Liane Hansen. Claire Holley, along with her visionary collection of traditional hymns and gospel songs,Sanctuary, and 1997�s Night Air, has established Claire as an artist committed to staking out new musical ground while still remaining true to her southern song-writing roots.
And those roots run deep. A native Mississippian, Holley was exposed from an early age to the southland�s rich variety of musical influences, and from an early age she responded. She took a ukulele to church and sat out in the hot car strumming it between Sunday school and the church service; she ruined her father�s classical guitar by replacing the nylon strings with steel strings so she could imitate what she�d been hearing on one of her favorite records, Chet Atkins and Merle Travis Traveling Show; she hammered out harmonies for her favorite movie soundtracks, The Sound of Music and Convoy (disparate influences, perhaps, but both still very apparent in her work).
By the time she was in high school she had begun singing in clubs around Jackson, and when she went off to college in the suburbs of Chicago, she found herself part of another especially lively music scene. It was here she began writing her own songs, and with the help of some friends in the college�s recording studio, made her first demos. Not long afterwards, Claire hooked up with Durham, North Carolina producer John Plymale (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Athenaeum, Kim Richey) to round out the material on her first commercial album, Night Air. The two then worked together wonderfully on Sanctuary and her first Yep Roc release, Claire Holley.
But for the new project, Claire challenged herself to step away from the familiar. For this she turned to engineer and co-producer Steve Graham. �When he and I discussed my thoughts on a new project, he sympathized with my desire to make a more organic-sounding record. He wanted to help me turn it up a notch, to bring out the edge and sass and attitude in the songs by putting together a strong rhythm section, while still paying attention to the vocal and the acoustic guitar.� They recorded the album in a spacious room with classic equipment�tubes, tape, and vintage instruments�an approach that helped give the record its warm, intimate vibe.
Also essential was that Claire bring in musicians who could take advantage of a fairly free, live recording atmosphere, not merely memorizing parts, but contributing to the songs with energy and creativity. The record confirms it�she made some fine choices. Listen to the way Nic Brown�s cymbal sounds like rain hitting the ground on the last verse of �Henry�s,� the way Rob Seals� electric guitar answers the vocal on the verses of �Dandelion,� the way Steve Graham�s bass line drives �6 Miles To McKenny,� the way Eddie Walker�s drums swell intently to match the emotion of the vocal on �Love Never Came.�
Over and through all this fantastic music, Claire�s songs often explore some of the more emotionally complicated sides of life, some of the gray areas, the doubts, oftentimes the ambivalence toward childhood, toward love, toward death. Her voice is shaded alternately by wistfulness, anger, melancholy, mischief, and plain fun. But throughout there�s a sweetness, a rightness to this music that is fast becoming Claire Holley�s trademark, a distinctive sound that makes Dandelionconvincing, and beautiful.