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Rocking This Holy House
Band releases debut album of howling Arkansas-bred, Americana rock.
This Holy House starts its debut album Love and Hope in the War Times off easy enough. The sylvan pluck of a gentle banjo, perhaps reminding one of The Avett Brothers. Elliott S. Cotten softly singing, “I’ve only just begun to see the truth/You locked your heart away with no living proof.” Perhaps this is the love and hope part they speak of in the album title.
But then comes the war. Between that first verse and the beginning of the second, the brothers arrive: bassist David Velek and drummer James Velek. The drummer Velek comes in first. Pounding over Cotten’s banjo lines. Then comes the bassist Velek, popping a deep groove from his strings. This is Cotten’s signal, and the band’s vocalist and multi-instrumentalist adds electric guitar, with the opening tune “Love and War” soon roaring and Cotten howling. The song thrashes forward riding big crests of music. Anthemic is a good descriptor. There’s even some Crazy Horse-style guitar theatrics toward the end, Yet, the banjo never disappears. It’s always there, keeping the track rooted. And it’s where the track returns on the outro.
This is what the band means when they say they play Arkansas-bred, Americana rock. Cotten throws in mandolin, tambourine and glockenspiel across the 12 tracks of the album, and James Velek also adds some piano. The music of the album is folk and country based at points, but the band also knows when to give tunes a rock kick. And then there is the stomp of “Three Pieces for the Devil’s Chess.” The tune whacks, all gigantic guitar riffs with a fierce urgency as Cotten rages about today’s cracked political system before ending with a raw-throated yell: “Let’s put a crack in the system!” It’s barely controlled bar rock. Somewhere, The Replacements are smiling.
“Put Your Arm Around My Shoulder” is blues rock, and a tune where Cotten demonstrates his vocal pipes by tearing into the song, yowling “You lived the truth without a pause/I know they tore you up” before hitting tenor range with “I know that it hurts like hell.”
And this is only within the first four tunes of the album. There is a lot more musical ground covered on this powerful work from This Holy House. That banjo returns on “I Can’t Win This Alone,” with James Velek adding maracas as the tune goes soft/loud/soft/loud. But “Ballad of a Battle-Scarred Heart” is a straight-shot of guitar, bass and drum indie rock. Nothing flashy. Just simple and melodic and good.
Fans of This Holy House — Cotten and the Velek brothers recently added Jordan Ahne on guitars and vocals — know the range of the band. See them live and they might be folk rocking during one song; punking it up the next. But what ties it together and makes it consistent is the rock-solid rhythm foundation of the Velek brothers, and Cotten’s magnificent vocals. It’s a voice that can be down and dirty, or angelic. (See Cotten on the sweeping rock of “I Will Follow You.”)
Both the Veleks and Cotten grew up in Greenbrier, playing separately before coming together as This Holy House in early 2010. (The band calls Conway home now.) By the summer of 2011, the band was working with Darian Stribling and Jordan Trotter at Blue Chair Recording Studio in Austin on the 12 tracks written by Cotten and arranged by the band that comprise Love and Hope in the War Times.
Arkansas offers a wealth of musical talent. That’s true. But This Holy House’s Love and Hope in the War Times is some of the very best lately. Lyrically covering man’s spiritual and emotional struggles, the album is 58 minutes of Americana rock touching everything from acoustic ballads to rustic sing-alongs to raging indie rock. It’s an introduction that is sturdy from front to back. Many bands struggle for years before finding such an impressive and epic but also sometimes wild sound. This Holy House nailed it on their first try with Love and Hope in the War Times.
SEE THE BAND
This Holy House is holding a record release party for Love and Hope in the War Times at Stickyz on Saturday. It’s an 18-and-up show with the music starting at 9 p.m. Cover is $5 at the door. The opening act is Swampbird, a Conway act that channels the rough rock ‘n’ roll of the Drive-By Truckers on tunes such as “Wheels (F*ck It)” and “Body.” The tunes are from the band’s six-track EP It Rolls the Dice, released in January.