British artists have a long history of bringing an outsider's appreciation and interpretation to American music. Holly Golightly's made an entire career of it, in fact, and after years of soaking up and reworking garage rock, electric blues and Southern soul, she's making a bigger commitment to American music by picking up and moving to its birthplace.
After living in the UK and regularly touring all the likely continents (and after a brief period in San Francisco), Golightly and her touring partner – a Texas native who goes by the name Lawyer Dave, and who performed under the name the Brokeoffs before joining up with Golightly – have put down roots in miniscule Danielsville, Ga., about 20 miles north of Athens.
The two decided to settle in Georgia after visiting a friend who, after Hurricane Katrina, moved in with her father here. "We stayed with her a bit in her new place, scoping it out, working out whether we liked it; I was back and forth to the UK as well. We were looking all over, Tennessee, Kentucky ... but that's where the place came up and that's what we'd gone for."
Before setting out last month on tour to promote the album Dirt Don't Hurt (Transdreamer), released in October, Golightly and Dave had only been in Danielsville for a handful of days. "Just long enough to get some contractors in and spend some money," she says. "Just before we left we had an oven put in so we could eat when we got back, but otherwise it's a bit like camping at this point."
The two recorded Dirt Don't Hurt – the 42-year-old Golightly's thirteenth studio album – in Spain, taking a five-day break in the middle of a 50-date European tour to lay down tracks at a friend's studio on the northern Spanish coast. Vintage instruments, analog recording equipment, and the pair's road-honed camaraderie gives the album a relaxed, copasetic tone. With any more studio work it might've sounded fussy or forced, but instead comes natural – especially for a Brit and a lawyer playing with Southern sounds.
Golightly's known primarily for her garage-band past with the cult fave UK garage rock band Thee Headcoatees, but her solo stuff trucks down a more rustic road, dipping into the pre-rock 'n' roll era. Past solo albums have geared toward bluesy, spooky territory, sharing sounds with Tom Waits or Los Angeles sweetheart singer Eleni Mandell; teamed up with Lawyer Dave, though, things take an even more rural turn. Antique folk tunes, front porch ruminations and American folk sounds creak and bellow: plucked banjos, glass-bottle percussion, whomped kick-drums, and a few romantic torch songs for good measure. Her famous neighbors down the highway may have offered up fables of the Reconstruction, but Golightly digs even further back in the Southern songbook for inspiration, and inspiration is what she feels here with her new Georgia home.
The new turn her music has taken places Golightly – sonically as well as geographically – near Atlanta's Hubcap City, or Athens' Don Chambers and Vic Chesnutt. "Bottom Below" is a rousing lament, lurching and jittery and loaded with country-soul vocal harmonizing, while the insistent "Boats Up the River" is an eerie, haunting Appalachian toe-tapper.
"For the most part my record collection is made up of Southern soul, so it's very much like home to me already," she says. "And Athens is such a great place to be near, if you're going to be near anywhere. I wouldn't like to move to Atlanta, that's for sure, just because I didn't have any interest in being in a city. We wanted land, a place where we could have animals, grow some stuff, play some music and not bother anybody... and we've managed to fulfill all of the criteria!"
Digging into American music's recent (and less recent) history for musical inspiration makes the Georgia relocation a sensible, even natural one, says Golightly (yes, her actual name). "[The South is] much more familiar to me than anywhere else in the States. I never felt at home in San Francisco, that's for sure, and that was work-related why I was there. And this is different really because we're doing this and only doing this. We're at a point where we don't have to go and find a day job, so I think it'll give us a little more time to play. That's the idea, anyway."
Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs' tour wraps up this week in Atlanta. The duo plans to feature tunes off the ragged Dirt Don't Hurt, but have reworked a lot of older material as well.
"Some of the old set that we've played together for years [has been] adapted to fit this lineup. We know a bit of everything, really, and it's working out terrific," says Golightly. Her new status as a Georgia musician – despite its still-in-progress status – excites Golightly. "I'm quite used to moving around, but the volume of stuff just gets bigger and bigger every time, and this time it's really mammoth," she says. "It's like a full shipment in a container. And there's a plane full of British people coming out to visit for Christmas, so we've got to find places for them to sleep.... [But] it'll be so local, it'll be fantastic! It'll be nice to have somewhere nearby where we can play fairly regularly. That'll be great!"
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