The singer and visual artist Lonnie Holley endured an Alabama childhood so appalling it would strain credulity in fiction. He found success in later life as an instinctual artist, creating work from waste. Since 2012, when he made his recorded music debut, Holley’s second creative career has flourished as his free-associating, jazz speak-sing delivery has found new contexts.
This five-track collaboration with Virginia-based producer Matt White is semi-improvised, with Holley decanting the content of his notebooks in loose, inspired, one-take flurries. His open-ended melodies touch on humanity’s solipsism, its over-reliance on tech, on our poisoned air and water. Throughout, there runs a deep vein of Afro-futurism that connects this non-aligned music to electric jazz and P-Funk; Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 album, I’m New Here, is a close cousin.
For his part, White is best known for a gently cosmic country-soul sound. But he had musical sketches whose jammed, funky discord didn’t have a home until he thought to pair them with Holley’s “mantras”. And although any art with the word “selfie” in it can feel trite, this moving collaboration really hits its stride on the final track, where White introduces a sense of bass threat, rolling drum patterns and uneasy chimes, and Holley decrees that growth is imperative.