.J. Holmes and The Hackney Empire Soft Power Singing Dune Records
Article written by
Ged M - Jul 13, 2015
Proof that London is a world city like no other, Soft Power – the second album by A.J Holmes and The Hackney Empire - combines African guitar styles with funk moves and lyrics of observational acuity that sound like Ian Dury or Jarvis Cocker if he were born in Shoreditch not Sheffield. A.J. Holmes grew up in Barking and Dagenham and then moved to Hackney in 1999 where he became neighbours with Sierra Leonian musician Folo Graff (S.E. Rogie Band, Orchestra Jazira and author of several practical guides to African guitar styles). The result is clearest here on ‘Martyn’s Elephant Charm’, a brilliant blend of chattering African highlife guitar sounds and a very English witty litany of superstitions. Opening song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Twitterised’ also takes African rhythms and adds them to lyrics satirising the lack of political opposition these days, though naturally less poetically than Gil Scott-Heron did.
The mastery of styles puts you in mind of the Blockheads and Madness. The spiritual home of this music is David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, and 'Vanishing Breed’ has a touch of Talking Heads in its dance moves, and a seriously funky bassline. ‘Mein Liebster Feind’ is a great pun (“my best fiend”) but the chorus is too much like the motivational slogans that the simple-minded like to exchange on Facebook. ‘CLA’ rescues things at the end with some funky dance-pop, a few Kool and the Gang moves and more comic lines. It’s diverse, it’s very danceable, it’s funny and it fuses different styles without much effort. It’s a fine record but – and a look at their videos confirms this - it’s also music that cries out to be heard live.