This is Christopher Holland's first studio album in six years according to the blurb, with 2013’s ‘Corner Green’ apparently being his last release. However, inside the digipak, an “Also by Christopher Holland” list, has ‘Corner Green’ as a 2012 release… so I guess the gap has been even longer. I have to say that I’m not at all familiar with the guy’s output when this turned up for review, so six years… seven years… it’s all new to me. New, but thoroughly retro. Everything about this release screams nostalgic, early 70s, from the general aesthetic of the packaging; the album title; individual song titles… even the image on the disc itself.
So, what of this British keys guy, singer and songwriter? He has a long list of session credits, with a predominance of work for Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra (he is Jools' younger brother, after all), with whom he’s currently on tour as support act, at the time of writing. And he’s been non-prolifically releasing his own albums since 1999, with ‘Golden Hour’ seemingly being his fifth full-length solo release (along with a 2005 EP). And it has an overarching, early-70s, carefree wistfulness about it. Delightful in one sense, but cheesy and easy-listening in another. In fact, I gather the popularity of easy-listening peaked during the early-70s, so, while ‘Golden Hour’ might seem like a twenty first century anachronism, it works as a pastiche and ode to a bygone era.
The fact Holland brought into play a series of vintage keyboards and synths accentuates the album’s 70s stylistics, with nods to all kinds of other artists. 'So Long' has distinct Elton John vibes, while ‘Beautiful Fantastic Planet’ is straight out of the Stevie Wonder school of soulful pop. Name any other keys-centric singer-songwriters and keys-heavy bands from the 70s, from Paul Davis to Supertramp; it’s all here to be heard. It’s fair to say that Holland wears his influences not only on his sleeves, but also on his trousers, hat and shoes.
Of course, while a solo album in name, other players have contributed - Ash Soan and Jim Kimberly shared drumming duties for the recordings, with bass split between Dave Swift and Jon Van Leer, and Ron Box is credited with guitar. And, apart from Holland’s own vocal performances on some tracks, plenty of guest singers also feature - Siobhan Parr, Sumudu Jayatilaka and Katy Shotter all bring lead vocals to several tracks, while Mabel Ray and someone simply billed as “Ted” are credited with backing vocals. In fact, there seems to be a 50/50 split, with seven of the songs featuring Holland on lead vocals, and guests on the others. A solo album? Hmmm… might’ve been better released under the banner of ‘Christopher Holland and Friends’; although, to his credit, the other three vocal leads are mentioned on the front cover.
Lyrically, songs range from nostalgic reflections about where he grew up (‘On Blackheath’, co-written with Chris Difford) to a timely festive tune (‘Christmas Time’). And I’m sure that 'Hotter Than The Sun' is absolutely nothing to do with Alan Partridge, although my inner Partridge (if you’ve watched enough Coogan over the years, we all have one, right?) plays out the petrol station shop apple-pie scene in my head (“How long did you put this in for, Lynn”… “Eight minutes”… “It’s hotter than the sun!”).
All in all, there are some decent compositions here, in a 70s-pastiched kind of way, and I cannot fault the musicianship, which is all top-notch. However, there’s something all a little bit too twee about the whole outing, which is perhaps engendered by the overly nostalgic underpinnings of the music. Whereas a band like Cats in Space pastiche the 70s in a fully authentic, 100% entertaining way, Holland’s take on it is maybe a bit too introvert and personal. As such, I didn’t really connect with the album on an emotional level. Still, I admire it for what it is. A decent, unchallenging, easy-listening set of tunes.
Cosmic Harmony Records
Review by Mark Holmes
1st November 2019
1) Round & Round; 2) New Glove
3) Reminder of Love
4) On Blackheath; 5) So Long
6) Cosmic Star
7) Hotter Than the Sun
8) Escape Into Happiness
9) Follow; 10) Beautiful Fantastic Planet
11) My Dog and Me
12) Christmas Time
13) Strawberry Moon
14) Life is But a Dream
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...while ‘Golden Hour’ might seem like a twenty first century anachronism, it works as a pastiche and ode to a bygone era."