I heard her first before I saw her. Four years ago in Liverpool, having just joined an all-girl band Holly Henderson introduced herself with a mighty blast of rhythm guitar, before stepping onto the stage (somewhat tentatively) to join the others. She was performing under a stage name then, but she elevated that group single-handedly, bringing not just looks but a feisty attitude, as well as a mastery of her instrument well beyond her years (she was just 19 at the time).
Even then it was clear she was going to go much further than playing rhythm guitar for a touring cover band; when not playing live she was also putting out home-recorded demos on YouTube, of her own material as well as some selected covers of artists who influenced her. These demos were eventually collected into an EP, released online (‘Opium Drip’, 2016), but by the time that had happened her home recordings had caught the ear of Pete Thorn, a Canadian guitarist and producer based in Los Angeles who has recorded with many ‘names’ in the industry. He established contact with her and after hearing her cover of David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’, he did something remarkable: he invited her over to Los Angeles to record a full album in his studio, with some of his fellow professionals, furthermore he actually paid for the plane ticket himself!
Holly Henderson ‘Monday Green’ cover photo
The album was mostly recorded in early 2017, with finishing touches added later that year but only now is the complete album seeing the light of day. In the meantime Holly has gone on to release two more EPs (‘Desert Wax’, 2017; ‘Rust’, 2018), venturing into a more electronic style, as well as appearing on sessions for other artists. When I finally got my hands on this completed album (it is only available digitally at the moment, either for streaming or purchase) I was a little concerned that because I’ve got to know Holly over the past few years, even travelling down to her home town of Maidstone on two separate occasions just to see her perform material from this album live, I might have become a little too ‘invested’ in this project to give it an objective appraisal. Hence, it has had a LOT of play over the past few days; on constant play in the car or via the download I got from Google Play (other platforms are available!) before putting fingers to laptop keyboard.
Opening with ‘Uncommon Love’, a co-write with Pete Thorn, this number sets the tone with a quietish opening before the guitars are unleashed. You’d expect a good portion of guitar when you’ve got a highly-regarded six-stringer as producer, and axe fans aren’t going to be disappointed here. It’s not a hard rock or Metal project by any stretch of the imagination, but rockers will find much to savour here. ‘We Sold The Earth’ is one I do know from her live performances, in which she laments the fact that almost everything on Earth is the property of huge corporations (‘We sold the Earth and all its creations, all its colours‘).
What’s clear from this album as opposed to her home-recorded work is that her voice is much more prominent here. She didn’t previously consider herself a singer; whereas before she’d multi-track her vocals heavily or swamp her voice in effects, that’s been pared back on this album, allowing her voice to find an identity, as opposed to a choir of Hollys. That’s down to Pete Thorn, who encouraged her to use her voice much more, as is evidenced on ‘Somebody Knows’ and lead-off single ‘Loneliness’. The latter is an immediately catchy, instantly memorable uptempo rocker that is a sure-fire radio favourite, if radio is savvy enough to pick up on it that is! ‘Pride Can Wait’ was also released ahead of the full album, and this is a completely different kettle of fish. A quieter number not too far removed from her ‘Opium Drip’ material, the production on this song is lush and showcases what a gorgeous voice she has. It builds up into a power ballad with the guitars gradually coming to the fore.
The next track ‘Doldrums’ is my personal favourite of the album, another slow-burner like ‘Pride Can Wait’ which reminds me a little of Radiohead (another of her influences). Again, her voice is allowed to shine, with layers only used where necessary. This is probably the most ‘prog’ track on the album, with the song eventually breaking into a fantastic guitar solo at around the two minute 30 mark. Breathtaking. How do you follow that? Why, with a song about a ‘bad Tinder date’ of course! ‘Ghost of Denmark Street’ was influenced by a real-life encounter and features a half-spoken vocal over a prominent bass line, with an acerbic lyric recounting how that date didn’t exactly go as hoped! Once again, she delivers a searing guitar solo to go with the line of ‘Little psycho boy, I wanna take you home‘ (the song was originally titled ‘Psycho’ when performed live.)
‘Your Hands’ (which originally featured on ‘Opium Drip’) comes next. Here it has been shortened, tightened up, with a cleaner sound once again bringing Holly’s voice further up but retaining the killer guitar solo at the end. What I take from listening to this song and the album as a whole is how good the production is; it could so easily have ended up as a Pete Thorn album featuring Holly Henderson, but not a bit of it. He’s subtly, but effectively brought the best out of her, sharpening her sound and giving her a platform to showcase her immense talent, but without taking anything away from who she is. That is also down to the other players on the album; it must have been a privilege to play alongside top talent such as bassist Jon Button (currently touring with The Who) and drummer Blair Sinta who has performed with world-renowned names such as Chris Cornell and Stevie Nicks among many others.
‘Cost of Love’ will probably have you singing ‘Roxanne’ over its Police-style guitar riff, with some memorable lines (‘the heat always rises in the cracks in the council house window‘ and ‘you crushed my conscience and you took it like a drug; now the world is on fire and our leaders are drunk‘). Another uptempo number which would sound great on radio, once again if the powers that be are actually paying attention! Closing number ‘Frantic’ once again starts off with gently tinkling guitar, and on this occasion Holly has deployed the layered vocal to introduce the main body of the song. It’s this song which provides the background to the cover image of Holly playing guitar sat on the loo – she actually recorded the guitar part for the pre-chorus in the bathroom to get the desired sound! I suppose it’s not quite Deep Purple in the Grand Hotel but y’know, the end justifies the means! This one has a huge chorus sound which is likely to stick in the mind after the album finishes. Unless of course you play the whole thing over again (!)
As said earlier I was wondering whether the fact I have got to know Holly as a friend would impact on my thoughts on this record. but there is no doubt about what a well-produced, well-recorded set this is. If she didn’t have the writing and playing talent to start off with no amount of production sheen would hide it, but she has it all in her locker. What Pete Thorn and his players have provided is the sharp focus to make sure that talent gets recognised. This album was well worth waiting for, and what’s worth remembering is that this material is two to three years old. A lot’s happened since then, and this is one of the few artists I know where I honestly don’t know what to expect from her next. The genuinely exciting thing is that unlike some so-called ‘alternative’ acts who have gotten huge by sticking to what works, by ‘staying inside the box’, Holly has a whole collection of boxes, of different shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, so what will follow from this album is a mystery to me. But I am looking forward to finding out!
‘Monday Green’ (a pun title, based on ‘mondegreen’ or misheard song words) is everything I’d hoped for and more besides. Despite being close to this whole thing in so far as having followed her journey from backing musician in a cover band to her recording in LA with some of the best in the business, I’ve no other option than to award the full five inflatable guitars. Sadly for Holly, they’re not inflatable Telecasters though!
5 – Delightful