Renowned throughout the art world for his found-object sculptures, which he began crafting in 1979, Lonnie Holley started his musical career in 2012, when Dust-to-Digital released his phenomenal debut album Just Before Music. The Alabama-born artist had been improvising songs using a Casio keyboard in his home for decades, but he'd never considered presenting his music to the general public until manager Matt Arnett began organizing professional recordings in 2006. Quite simply, Holley's music is impossible to categorize.
Lonnie Holley starts MITH, his third album, with a simple, striking statement: "I'm a suspect in America," he sings over a prismatic keyboard line, stretching the last syllable until he runs out of breath. As a black man who has lived in the cities of the South for much of his life, Holley has endured that reality for 68 years, watching as white suspicion of black bodies has evolved but never receded. "Here I stand accused/My life has been so misused/Through blood, sweat, and tears/I'm a suspect," he continues, as overdubbed vocals, synthesizers, and woozy trombone bloom around his words.
Lonnie Holley's reputation precedes him: the cultish figure of the 68-year-old outsider artist, experimental musician, frequent collaborator and father to 15 children (himself one of 27) would seem parodically bohemian were it not for the very real hardships (bereavement, imprisonment, serious injury, to name a few) that have regularly befallen him. Yet this veteran has created a record that, far from being cartoonish or hackneyed, feels tangible and rings true. Plangent, breathy piano work, reminiscent of Bill Evans' playing on Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, functions as an anchor for the impressionism of Holley's arrangements.