Despite his soulful style that is regularly associated with the current batch of revivalists Nick Waterhouse is by no means your average rhythm and blues throw back. With the energy of a 50s rock and roller he is a reserved Buddy Holly like figure that houses a manic nature in his writing but is kept in restraints by a soulful backing band, The Tarots, who sway and wail like seasoned studio veterans. His 2012 debut, Time’s All Gone, gave mainstream culture a selling point that relied greatly on being retroactive and has garnered him the occasional endorsement like his most recent fling with a Lexus commercial. On his latest, Holly, he has added a primer to his style that takes him from being part of a revival movement to being a rocker at the center of his mythical style and polished sound.
Highlights like opener “High Tidings” and “Let It Come Down” sway to a slow and often Motown-esque feel which differs greatly from the jumping and jiving tendencies of his first release. More lounge finger snapping than the rhythmic motion of sexual tension is where most of the songs on Holly lie but there are still a lot of rollicking and reeling. Lead single “This Is a Game” delivers the most energy with a booming organ and rapturous horns. The next closest to that kind of energy is the title track which produces a rumba like feel that quivers in the wind and shakes the listener down hard for its approval.
Lyrically, Waterhouse tends to take things down a strange and often dark path. His nice boy next door looks hide a rather JD Salinger level of mystery and grace and this bleeds through on some of the best tracks Holly has to offer. “Sleeping Pills” in particular saunters gently but is also incredibly obvious about the notions of excess and looking for trouble. This is what separates Waterhouse from being pigeonholed as some soul revivalist and that is said with all due respect to people like Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. The difference here is how accessible his style can be that lifts it from its old fashioned roots and makes it something that a modern audience can embrace instead of trying to reminisce with.
No song truly falters here but it gets a bit lazy and listless on the back end of the record mainly on tracks like “Well It’s Fine” and “Ain’t There Anything Money Can’t Buy” which roll through recycled instrumentation and often lazy lyrical content. It’s not as if Waterhouse just stopped trying with the latter tracks but with this rich, soulful sound all the frills and things that pop must be upfront to keep the listener going to the very end. Even including a cover of “It’s No.3” by Ty Segall very early on keeps forward momentum in place.
With Holly, Nick Waterhouse is still honoring a style that many view as a throwback to simpler times in music but does so through his own craft that combines deep, thought out lyrics with a gloss of modern production and genre hopping.