Rick Holmstrom
Get Wild
Tone-Cool CD 1176A

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


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