Holly Golightly – real name, no gimmicks – has worn a variety of hats in her almost twenty years as an iconic and inspirational recording artist, taking in styles from three-chord garage to R&B. Since 2007 her chosen outfit has been Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs, a country-infused collaboration with her longtime bandmate Lawyer Dave.
This album remains faithful to the ramshackle DIY stylings that made her widely influential, and which lend themselves well to the Brokeoffs’ stripped-down version of Americana. No Help Coming blows in like a freight train, setting off under the clattering weight of its title track, which, with its wry recognition of the individual alone in a merciless world and consequent urgings to mercenary independence, sets the pace for much of what follows. The album’s themes of loss, heartbreak, abstinence and addiction are shot through with country music’s traditional insistence on a stubborn and defiant individualism.
Despite Golightly’s current resettlement in rural Georgia, one might question her right to sing the country blues as a London-born bohemian with a girl-group garage-rock sojourn in Kent’s Medway Delta behind her. However, a curious thing about country music is that, with the fragmentation of the rustic Southern melting pot from which the genre originally sprang, authenticity in its performers seems less important than commitment to the signifiers of authenticity. The conventions of country are ripe for subversion or spoof, but in this case they’re used for an affectionate, well-crafted and mostly straight-faced homage. In the dozen songs here, recorded in the duo’s adopted home state, Holly and Dave avoid comedy or condescension and retain the idea of country music as a vehicle for personal expression rather than parody, as well as preserving its heart of diamond-hard sincerity.
Musically, the songs combine placid, plangent dips and twangs with a rollicking singalong energy. Golightly gives a commanding performance, particularly on the lugubrious menace of ‘The Rest Of Your Life’ and the sweeping, crystalline melancholy of ‘River Of Tears’. ‘Burn, Oh Junk Pile, Burn’ is a standout track, its sinuous Latin tempo, smoky vocal and cryptically mordant lyrics recalling mid-period Tom Waits. Golightly’s interest in musical curiosities finds an outlet in a defensive and dignified reading of Bill Anderson’s ‘The Lord Knows We’re Drinking’ and the cover of Mr Undertaker’s 1955 hit ‘Here Lies My Love’, on which her appropriately sepulchral drawl, softening the song’s rickety rhythm, sounds like it’s being played from a dusted-off gramophone.
Perhaps the album’s only concessions to progress are the couple of tracks on which Lawyer Dave assumes lead vocals for the first time, in a full-throated Texan holler, on the dryly told cautionary tale ‘You’re Under Arrest’ and a version of Wendell Austin’s psycho-country lament ‘L.S.D. Made A Wreck Of Me’. While moments like the latter veer close to pastiche, No Help Coming as a whole is a convincing country tapestry. After a career of consistently quality twists and turns, Holly Golightly remains a name to conjure with.