Album Review: The Holy Broke – Do It Yourself – An impressive folk album

With an album title like it’s from a big box home improvement retailer, music fans might not realize it’s actually a complicated, rich album full of a variety of styles. It’s most generally “folk” music, but it does so with stripped down acoustic tracks, full sound organ music, and well-placed vocal harmonies throughout the album. What makes the band The Holy Broke stand out is the balance of sincere lyrics with bright, engaging musicianship. It’s definitely worth a listen, dear folk fans.

It’s evident from “Roadsick Blues” that this album is not just influenced by folk rockers. It has a heritage in country, including directly quoting the legendary Willie Nelson. The track has some of the sweetest, harmony-filled pop folk music I’ve heard in years. It’s infectiously enjoyable, even when the lyrics are full of snark and attitude. It’s almost impossible not to immediately think of Simon and Garfunkel or CSNY. They have those timeless, impeccable lyrics and stylings down pat.

So “I Ain’t Proud” is about the organ. I mean, the vocals are pretty great and the song’s structure is kickin’, but the organ steals the show. It’s covered over at times by the saucy guitars, but when the organ fills the anthemic verses, listeners are forced into a smile. It’s infectious. “I just wanna hurt somebody anyway…” isn’t the nicest sentiment, but it taps into the deep human struggle of coping with pain in ways that hurt others. It’s nothing if not transcendent.

Coming in with a bit more of a narrative style, “Old Flame” is about the connection with an old lover. It’s jazzy, with a muted horn for some extra character. It’s the kind of “smoke-filled lounge” track that doesn’t seem typical of a folk album. That said, the sentiments are absolutely befitting the rest of attitude on the album. It’s about crass desire crafted in great detail, “she likes boys that sing sad songs… and she likes that my band can draw crowds.” Nice!

“TV” is a plodding folk song. Its about the dull life of watching TV and the absurdity of it all. “What’s been concocted for me…” It’s a cleverly layered metaphor, both about a personal existential crisis and a bit of a cultural critique. It’s actually a blues song hidden in something else. More than anything, it comes across to me as being profoundly sad.

“Off the Bone” is another simple acoustic song, focusing on the heartfelt delivery of key lyrics. “These people trying to be like Jesus fail to very degrees but I ain’t seen nobody fail at trying to be evil…” It’s about songwriting, truth, and describing humanity. It’s about putting sincere feelings into music, hoping that people get the depths of it. It’s a musician’s lament that listeners would really “get” the music. It seems genuine and it works.

Title track “Do It Yourself” has an unconventional sound, featuring a variety of instruments that create a kind of levitating feeling at the beginning. There’s something haunting about the way the harmonies layer over the instrumentation. The track highlights a complicated relationship and, if I’m interpreting it correctly, a breakup. What makes the song work really well, though, is its methodical (almost lullaby) sense of comfort while being actually a very tense track. The juxtaposition is evident.

“Yellowed” is a quaint folk-lovers track. One word: harmonica. Beyond a great harmonica solo opening the song, though, is a nice finger plucked melody that introduces a raspy Cat Stevens style vocal line. There are shades of CSNY and some more recent revitalization bands. It seems to be about the nostalgia of old music come back to life. Clever, right? “I want your old sounds to fill my empty house.” Ain’t that the truth.

This is the kind of album that deserves the kind of “more exposure” that is why this website exists. This should be an album that is talked about in Big Media. Please do your part to share it with a few friends. The songwriting is top notch. The musicianship is fantastic. It all comes together for a great final product. It’s not necessarily a singalong album, but it’s one that will make listeners think. It’s perfect for a coffeeshop playlist alongside bands like The Lumineers, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes.

Oh – and the spoiler is probably over now – but this isn’t a band at all. It’s the one man project of a savant by the name of Kent Ueland. Impressed now, aren’tcha? See. You should share it.

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