Rick Holmstrom’s got credentials
a-plenty: As lead guitarist for Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, "Band
of the Year" at the ’99 Handy Awards, Holmstrom has been in a high-profile
slot this past year. But with a nickname of "L.A. Holmes,"
it’s no surprise Holmstrom has been a force on the Los Angeles blues
scene for the past 15 years. He’s played with performers like the late
William Clarke, the currently up’n’coming Janiva Magness, and nationally
for Billy Boy Arnold.
For a while, Holmstrom also led
his own band with harp man Johnny Dyer. (Dyer sits in on "You Missed
Your Chance" and provides other backing vocals.) But it’s his work
with Piazza’s band that has cemented his status as a guitarist of note;
tunes like the brightly jumpin’ "Wiggle Stick" show off Holmstrom’s
style, tone and inventiveness. Guest Marco Fiume puts down a sprightly,
comical "boing" effect for the "Wiggle Stick Guitar"
on the opening trade-offs, with Piazza guesting on harmonica. Piazza
and Holmstrom co-wrote the composition, and that’s Honey Piazza layin’
down the piano.
From this set-up, Holmstrom takes
a jazz-inflected, jump-blues approach. He shows off his sharp sensibilities
for rhythm, melody and dynamics but is equally capable of tearing into
some wickedly stingin’, swingin’, fast-paced solo licks. These jazzed-up,
high-voltage runs up the fret board are a Holmstrom signature throughout
his solos here. The effortless interchange between the players — familiar
and intuitive from their time together in Piazza’s band — is pure joy.
"Uno Mas," another instrumental,
also showcases Holmstrom’s ability to lay down irresistible and infectious
guitar licks. In trio format with Steve Mugalian and Junior Watson,
Holmstrom effortlessly changes up tempo and effects, adding in a few
fast and furious runs for good measure.
All in all, making it all sound
like fun is the secret behind Holmstrom’s solo work. It’s light and
easy in the T-Bone Walker tradition — tailor-made, stylin’ but never
too damn serious. Holmstrom’s vocals are casual and comfortable. His
conversational, tossed-off delivery is just right — reminiscent of another
West Coaster, Rusty Zinn, or even jump-blues/swing master Duke Robillard.
Holmstrom’s breezy, no-worries vocals suit the fine material here, all
his own originals or collaborations with some of his guests. In fact,
listeners who like Zinn’s gleaming, vintage-toned blues, Robillard’s
old-school jump-swing or the early work of Teddy Morgan should particularly
dig this Tone-Cool debut disc from Holmstrom.
The addition of a horn section anchored
by West Coast scene/James Harman band veteran Jeff "Big Daddy"
Turmes on baritone sax (he’s also bass player for much of the disc)
and Steve Marsh on tenor gives some variety and dimension to the arrangements.
The two tear it up with Holmstrom on tracks like "Lost in the Shuffle"
— a bouncy, swingin’ romp spotlighting a sweet solo horn run by Marsh
and some fine interplay.
With sprightly, high-spirited jump-blues
like this shimmying up your spine from toes to shoulders, you’ll be
feeling mighty fine. Get Wild’s got that sweet, warm, West Coast
vintage tone down pat. It’s a polished, effervescent fizz of a champagne
cocktail served up poolside.
— B.J. Huchtemann