Note: Michael Lopez is taking over our long-running You Asked For It review column.
Music is a medium that comes to a particular person through inspiration. It is also a medium that inspires others to be creative and to perhaps make their own music. Sometimes a historical event can inspire a musician to create a whole album based on whatever intrigues that musician. Such is the case for Eric Holland on his latest album Borders, Battles & Beers. Unfortunately, the history of the SW United States and Mexico is the only thing inspirational about this album.
An Arizona native, Holland earned a master's of education in bilingual studies. That second language? You guessed it: Spanish! The oft-endearing gringo speaking Spanglish is cute enough for some, but over the duration of Borders, it all becomes very tiresome. Part of the problem is Holland's sup-bar Spanish accent; the rest of the problem is his lyrics.
Oh, the lyrics on this thing -- where can I start? The album is innocuous enough, considering the subject matter, and the opening track "Andale, Andale" is catchy. It perfectly sets the tone for what is to come -- an album full of tales about Pancho Villa, the Rio Grande, and other various strong points of the Southwest and Mexico. It's not rocket science to sing about such a thing, so there's hope that Holland can craft some interesting, inspired lyrics about it all.
That hope fades away completely with the third track "Betty Was Black, Willy Was White." The first time I listened to the song, I picked up on the painfully simple rhyme scheme right away. By the seventh line of the song, I was already correctly guessing what Holland was going to sing -- and that's not a good thing. "Sat by the fire / listened to jazz / had built a little dream / like every couple has." The moment I heard him sing "jazz" I said to myself, "Oh, watch out for the 'has,'" and Holland surely didn't disappoint. It's at this point that the album became bland and formulaic, ruining whatever momentum the first tracks had built.
While Holland was inspired by certain events in creating this album, what he ended up producing is gravely lacking any real inspiration -- his lyrics, his rhyme schemes, and his guitar-playing are all painfully simple. That can sometimes be okay if the music is catchy and fun, but for Holland -- unfortunately -- his music is neither. That is a sad thing, too, because it can be so enlightening and joyous when the music we listen to is inspired -- when it contains rhythms and melodies that make us glad to be listening to whatever we have chosen.
When I hear elementary school rhyming schemes set to boring, absolutely played-out melodies, it is so disheartening because it's uninspired. The effort is not there, the ingenuity is not there and the end result is borderline rude. Music fans want to be charmed by their music -- they want to have fun with it. When a musician comes and plops down 45 minutes worth of bland, uninspired music -- clearly showing that they most likely didn't take the time to find anything worthy of inspiration or ingenuity -- then why should that musician's fans have to sit through it? They shouldn't -- their senses should be overwhelmed with the satisfaction of listening to a product that clearly shows how much time, effort and originality went into it.
Those are my two cents, you may take it or leave it. I am now in charge of You Asked For It
, and when I was asked to take over the responsibilities, I was more than willing to do it. I want to champion Phoenix's local music scene. I think it is long overdue for a coming out party, and I know there are musicians out there that can bring some serious musical chops to the table. I grew up witnessing the transition of grunge into indie rock in Portland, Oregon -- I have seen how a local scene can make its mark on the national music scene. Let me just say I know that it can be done in Phoenix, and that responsibility lies solely with its bands. I want to listen to new bands and be impressed by what I hear -- I want to hear that ingenuity, that indescribable quality about a new record that makes you say "wow" and raises the hairs on the back of you neck, all while demanding repeated listens.
If you're a musician from the Phoenix area and would like to submit a CD for review, please send it in an envelope marked "YAFI" to:
You Asked For It
c/o Phoenix New Times
1201 E. Jefferson Street Phoenix, AZ 85032
I am waiting to be impressed, so bring it.