Monday, June 27, 2005


Jake Holmes week

The funny thing is that you've heard Jake Holmes' music. Out of all of the artists that I've ever mentioned in Mystical Beast, Jake Holmes is the only one for whom I can say that for certain, assuming you own a television.

To get that part out of the way, I'll start with a rundown of the songs that he wrote that you know: Be All That You Can Be, I'm a Pepper, Raise Your Hand If You're Sure. You may have also heard some others, but those three seemed like the most likely suspects.

He also wrote Dazed And Confused, which appeared in an altered (and uncredited) version on Led Zeppelin's debut. These are the basic factoids that you're going to find in any article on Jake Holmes.

Not so long ago his very, very out-of-print records from the sixties and early seventies became available again, and by download at that. If you're impatient, feel free to hop on over to It's About Music or eMusic. The two albums that you most likely want are The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes and A Letter to Katherine December. Be aware that these are remastered from vinyl, and sometimes that's very obvious. If you're really uptight, you may still need to track down original copies, which aren't cheap.

Even though it doesn't really make much sense, I've always been somewhat hesitant to post MP3's from albums that are available for legal download. So today, the pickings are going to be kind of slim: here's a sparse, haunting, and maybe slightly overwrought/creepy song called Genuine Imitation Life. I think the strangeness I hear comes from the delivery, since the version that I posted last Wednesday and the one I'm going to post later this week come across as much less earnest.

Why do you care about Jake Holmes? Aside from the Trivial Pursuit aspects detailed above, I can think of a couple of good reasons. One: his first two albums feature a deceptively oddball and really unusual approach to folk/rock. Album #1, The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes is accurately described by Perfect Sound Forever as "spartan like a slab of concrete." It's not exactly minimalist (though the combo playing it is minimal i.e. acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, no percussion): the chords and lyrics aren't at all stripped down. But I don't know if I've ever heard music that's simultaneously so interesting and so emotionally evasive. Something about the flat sound of Jake's voice seems at odds with the lyrics and arrangements. Album #2, A Letter To Katherine December, has a full band and goes down a little easier, but some of his production ideas are way ahead of their time, like the way orchestral bits will flip in and out of songs as if they were samples. And again, there's the voice. Imagine Crispin Glover singing lead for Love, and you're headed for the right territory.

Reason number two revolves around two amazing records Jake Holmes co-wrote in 1969 with Bob Gaudio. I'll be posting tracks from those for the remainder of this week.

A lot of info as well as video of a 1967 live performance (!) and streams of a number of tracks (including Jake's original Dazed And Confused) can be found here. Perfect Sound Forever did a nice article/interview recently here. Jake Holmes has a small but helpful web site here.

Genuine Imitation Life by Jake Holmes

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