The country music and blues on Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs' new full-length Dirt Don't Hurt amounts to blissful revivalism in the British manner, but the music is deadpan and funny and its revisionist tendencies sound earned. Like her mid-'60s exemplars, Golightly is obsessed with American idioms, and while her take on Delta blues and rockabilly isn't as life-affirming or conflicted as something by The Kinks or The Rolling Stones, she achieves the impossible on Dirt Don't Hurt: She makes the current vogue for re-creating '60s folkiedom sound almost as interesting as the real thing.
Born in 1966 in London ("Just by default, because that's where my mom was living when it was time to have me," she explains), Golightly grew up in East Sussex with her grandparents and came from a family that didn't sport any musicians she can remember, although her parents were fans. "They were into music in a pretty big way in the '60s in the same way everybody else was," she says.
Like many a budding performer doing her garage-rock apprenticeship, Golightly listened to Ray Davies and Mick Jagger imitating American blues, soul and country, and decided she liked the old music better. "The stuff that Ray Davies was listening to was probably the stuff I really liked," she says. "They interpreted it then in that way and I interpret it now in this way. I think they largely would have listened to a lot of the same stuff I was listening to—when they were teenagers, I'm sure."
After playing in Thee Headcoatees, an all-female band that was a sister group to punk-rockers Thee Headcoats, Golightly recorded her first solo record in 1995. Since then, she's toured regularly, covered obscure '60s pop songs such as The Kinks' "Time Will Tell" and adhered to a lo-fi recording ethic. Last year she released the excellent You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying under the name Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs. In practice, the band consists of Golightly and Lawyer Dave, an American multi-instrumentalist who lends his voice to the duets that compose Dirt Don't Hurt.
If they're not quite George Jones and Tammy Wynette, the singers make something of "I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya," the Buddy Griffin and Claudia Swann composition that closes Dirt. Originally cut by Griffin and Swann for Chess Records in 1954, "I Wanna Hug Ya" gets a spirited, slightly sloppy treatment. Golightly and Lawyer Dave whoop it up and provide a fitting ending to a record that's mostly about how relationships can go wrong.
"It's a song I've always really liked, and I recorded it for a bootleg for a tour at home in the UK last year," Golightly says of the Griffin and Swann tune. "It's very easy to turn things into duets if you can sing them with some conviction. I've done so much on my own, my favorite thing about it is I get to sing with somebody else."
Recorded in Spain in the middle of a European jaunt, Dirt sounds loose and relaxed, with banjo and slide guitar sticking out of the mix. You can tease out the songs' meanings—the ricky-tick rhythms of "Accuse Me" complement lines such as, "I told you before / Accuse me once more / And you will find yourself / Left all alone"—but the record's aural texture is beautifully grimy, and a weird variation on Americana.
"Some things work and some things don't," Golightly says of the studio, Circo Perotti. "Some things work if they're turned on their side. It was all a bit hit-and-miss. Some channels on the desk went while we were there. But compared to the first [Brokeoffs] record it's pretty produced-sounding."
Elsewhere, "Gettin' High for Jesus" comes across like Sonny Boy Williamson imitating The Kinks in Sun Studios, only Sam Phillips likely would have prevented Golightly from performing the song. "I'm gettin' high for Jesus / 'Cause he got so low for me," she sings. "Bottom Below" rocks out, while "Indeed You Do" is brilliant—revisionist super-kitsch with a kick: "Don't go digging your own grave," Golightly sings, " 'Cause I already made you one."
Dirt displays an understated virtuosity, with licks you've heard a thousand times played a touch differently. "Burn Your Fun" is futuristic blues along the lines of Buddy Miller's experiments, and the record alternates between minor-key blues and hard-core country stomps. In many ways it's a classic duets record, and Golightly and Lawyer Dave sing like they have something to prove.
Appropriately for a devotee of Southern American music, Golightly is moving from England to Georgia. Once she gets settled, she plans to continue to tour the United States and, in her precious spare time, raise horses. "It's about 20 miles out of Athens, two hours out of Atlanta, nice and rural," she says. "The international airport really does make a lot of difference to me, because I have to go back and forth."
As for the horses, Golightly has specific tastes. "In Britain, I like the ancient breeds of ponies. There aren't as many [in the United States]. We've had Welsh ponies and I'd quite like to have a couple of those again—they lend themselves to the terrain here. You know, you need something that can cope with the heat here, really."