See That Light
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Rick Holmstrom is probably best known for being Mavis Staples' band leader, which makes the personality and charm of See That Light, his solo album, all the more impressive. His time off to the side of the stage, supporting a great artist, hasn't caused him to lose his sense of self. Instead, he's created an album of straight-forward, unadorned blues and rock that lets the listener hear the foundation of each song.
Holmstrom has a sweet voice, and while it's not particularly powerful or bluesy, it's recognizable. Once you hear Holmstrom, you feel like you know who he is and what to expect. His airy arrangements allow Homstrom to put himself forward. Since he recorded See That Light in quarantine, it's just Holmstrom, bass, and drums, which gives the tracks lots of room to breathe. Holmstrom takes advantage, allocating plenty of space for himself in the songs. These don't feel like stripped-down demos, though. Holmstrom's guitar work is too refined, the way he's able to effortlessly slide between rhythm and leads, making it sound like there's at least two of him on each track. But there's also a garage-y raw quality to the songs.
His lyrics, which are similarly direct, support the garage sound. "Losing My Shit" says it all, from the title on down. A tale of mental anguish, the lyrics are dialogue: "I was warned about leaving you / Listen here Johnny, you'll come unglued / Before too long you'll be on the street / And that's no place to be." The music beneath, grungy drums and Holmstrom's tremolo-laden guitar, adds to the drama and sadness of the track. There's an energy to the performance that makes it feel like an early take. "I'm an Asshole," sung from the perspective of an obnoxious person who invites people to parties, but then doesn't speak to them, might not tap into world-changing social issues, but it does evoke a specific person. And the fact that the guitar riff conjures T-Rex's "Bang a Gong" is icing on the cake.
Holmstrom gravitates toward some early rock and roll sounds, too. "Look Me in the Eye," bounces, Steve Mugalian's bass doing a wonderful job of giving the track an adrenalin injection. "Waiting Too Long" sounds like a Chuck Berry tune. Both tracks place Holmstrom's guitar upfront in the mix, allowing you to hear everything he's doing, but also making the tracks feel live, like you're sitting close to the guitar and vocal speakers at a show. It's appropriate, the sideman finally claiming the front of the stage.
The nice thing about See That Light is that while Holmstrom is putting himself forward, as a songwriter and performer, the album is still balanced. Perhaps all those years of backing other musicians have given him a strong sense of where the line is between being the name on the marquee and being overbearing. See That Light gives a strong sense of who Holmstrom is an artist, and he's a compelling one. This album, like so many right now, came about because he was stuck at home, unable to tour, but luckily Holmstrom has a lot to say.