Record Review: Holly + The Italians – Demos Federico

Wounded Bird Records | US | 2xCD | 2002 | WOU 1000

Wounded Bird Records | US | 2xCD | 2002 | WOU 1000

Holly + The Italians: Demos Federico US 2xCD [2002]

Disc 1

  1. It’s Only Me [Demo Version]
  2. Fanzine [Demo Version]
  3. Chapel Of Love [Demo Version]
  4. One More Dance [Demo Version]
  5. Honalu [Demo]
  6. Unoriginal Sin [Demo]
  7. Where Baby Walks
  8. Mercy [Demo]
  9. Love Letter
  10. That Was
  11. Christine
  12. Does Anyone
  13. You Can Love Her
  14. Lonely
  15. Here Comes Another Day
  16. Mercy

Disc 2

  1. The Lonely Ones [Version #1]
  2. Then Carolyn
  3. Witness
  4. My Town
  5. Mysteries In A Doll’s House
  6. The Longest Breath
  7. Treasure Island
  8. Walking With Lorraine
  9. Try Me
  10. Weekend
  11. She Transforms
  12. Iguana
  13. The Lonely Ones [Version #2]

Holly Beth Vencent’s debut album with Holly + The Italians was utterly immense to me when it was released in 1981. It was the finest rock album of that very Eurosynth year in my life. As such, it balanced out a hell of a lot of non-rock music listening, and did so with utter aplomb. When her second album was issued in  1982 under her own name, but called “Holly + The Italians,” that album’s sidestep of searing pop-punk for far more elaborately arranged material knocked the wind out of my sails for about a decade. I avoided the second album, because the first one was so perfect, how could her movement towards elaborate art rock ever satisfy?

My mistake! After my friend Tom’s continued boosting, I finally bought the second album about a decade later. Mea culpa! It was as impressive as the first album while sounding absolutely nothing like it on all but one of its tracks. Instead, Ms. Vincent released an album of proto chamber-rock that I’d gamble was an influence on Richard Barone’s ears. Barone points to The Beatles, who were a meta influence down the years, for sure, but her second album proved that there were others just as accomplished who were making similar moves years prior to the release of “Cool Blue Halo.”

It remained for another 13 years, before Vincent managed to release another record; the completely missable “Vowel Movement” project of improv with Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. So as a fan there was the sense of years and years of lost opportunities for Holly Beth Vincent, who released two of my favorite albums ever, yet languished in obscurity. When reissue label Wounded Bird reissued the long-lost first two albums on CD in  2001, they must have sold well enough to get Wounded Bird sniffing around her door again for something more. “Demos Federico” was the result, and it was manna for the faithful fans who in a single fat package, were given all of those songs which we may have suspected existed during her drought period, but were now confirmed in the flesh. And the end result was as great as anyone would have guessed.

The CD opens with four demos from 1979 at famed Spector haunt Gold Star studios. “Fanzine” and “Chapel Of Love” eventually surfaced as B-sides to Virgin singles but “It’s Only Me” and “One More Dance” are “new” vintage songs. Anyone pining for the femme/Ramones/Spector vibe of the first album will surely relish these gems.

The nest three songs are actually more interesting to me seeing as how they were demos for the astonishing second album. When Vincent went from sounding like The Ramones as fronted by Ronnie Spector and produced by Phil [!] to the baroque psychedelia/chamber rock of her second album, the fact that her now incredibly complex arrangements were as satisfying if not more than her more direct material was astonishing. The Pat Collier produced demos here of “Honalu” and the stunning “Unoriginal Sin” prove that even in their stripped down form, that this was A+ list material that sounded fantastic even before all of the accomplished polish was added courtesy of producer Mike Thorne and the session pros.

After that, disc one hits its stride with nine tracks recorded by Drew Vogelman in ’87-’88 that are all new songs for the fans and the caliber of the material is all exceptional. The vibe ended up being halfway between the styles of the first and second album. A little more visceral and direct than “Holly + The Italians,” but not forsaking all of its finesse and creative arrangements. “Mercy” shows up here in two versions. Either of which is one of the best rock songs I’ve ever heard. I’ll give the demo the nod because I heard it first and it carried a lot of impact!

“Love Letter” is another long number like the show stoppers on the second album, proving that her penchant for reaching beyond the boundaries of a three minute pop song was still a good one. Jane Scarpantoni plays cello on tracks 11-16 here and she was the cellist for all of Richard Barone’s solo albums… that sounded like Holly Beth Vincent recordings from five years earlier. And what goes around comes around.

Disc two covers material written between the years of 1992 – 1998, with much of the material being more intimate solo material. Holly’s unplugged years as it were. Like many songwriters, one falls back on material that can be performed solo when the money is not there for a full band. Fortunately for Vincent, her writing is of a high enough standard to maintain interest even without the added hands. And near the end of the disc a full band reappears on the Dave Jerden sessions, which are skewed towards rocking out, as one could well imagine.

At the end of the day, this set represents at least two albums of material that I wish had been reaching the ears of the faithful between 1982-2002. The caliber of the songs presented here is largely what fans of the first two albums would have every right to expect. Perhaps only “Mysteries In A Doll’s House” drags on for too long and feels it. Vincent apologizes for the sound quality of these demos and many reveal the sort of artifacts that one would expect from safety cassettes kept in storage for 20+ years. Of course, some of the material here packs a full sonic heft [particularly the Jerden session] but even the occasional dropouts are a fair price paid for a wealth of music such as  this that fleshes out the long but spotted career of perhaps the best unsung female rock star ever. Buy this now before it’s another three figure OOP disc like the first two Wounded Bird reissues.

– 30 –


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Record Review: Holly + The Italians – Demos Federico

  1. Dana says:

    Holly was an old friend and a customer at my store (Moby Disc)! She was so cool! No pretense.



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