THE ALBUM -- Bill Holland & The Rent's Due Band, "It's About Time," Dutch Treat Records (DTR--1001).
The metronome Bill Holland holds on the cover of his latest album, "It's About Time," may well be a clock. With this collection of jazz, rock and R&B numbers, the local singer-songwriter and his Rent's Due Band prove they've put in enough jamming hours to deserve the big break.
For several years they've been kicking out an easy blend of smooth soulful rock garnering a steady D.C. following. Now, Holland's scratch-sexy voice, seasoned by experience on the area bar circuit, is reaching for bigger things. He's written difficult vocal assignments for himself on this LP, belting out driving pop rockers and attempting delicate loving ballads. Usually he's on top of the strain.
Streetwise poetry, sometimes threatening to overpower the melodies, carries the album's original compositions beyond routine boogie and blues. The varied arrangements recall beer joints or candlelight interludes, from New Orleans jazz to the Latin hustle.
The upbeat opening song is a cut above the rest. "Run or Fight" is a challenging rocker that provides the best showcase for Holland's punchy vocals. He's not an exquisite crooner, rather a dramatic stylist who can sing a blue(s) streak. Honking saxophone by Larry Strother and Holland's own lightning keyboard action support this straight-from-the- gut effort.
At odds with that display are a couple of Holland's soft ballads which ask the listener to indulge his raucous, earthy voice on sentimental tunes. It's apparent his songwriting tops his singing in spots. But he's sincere -- the way Burt Bacharach and Leonard Cohen are when performing their own beautifulworks with less-than-beautiful voices. Still, on an ambitious number like "Night of Wonder," lilting sax and flutes back up Holland's fragile melody, and he hangs in there for the high notes.
Despite any rough edges, the LP ticks off an impressive array of musical forms. "Talk That Talk" opens with a souped-up cha-cha rhythm and offers a masterful guitar run by John Jennings. Holland's bluesy piano licks step out on the cool "Got Another Thing Coming." And the band rocks out on "Feel That Fire," with a jaunty sing-and-shout chorus over the stick horn work: "Fan the flame/You'll never be the same/Feel the fire." His energy is contagious.
Sandwiched between songs of love and lust is a one-track joke: "Hamburger Heaven." The cut dishes up a deep-throated rendering of a "greasy, easy feeling," with hot drums, heavy bass and electric guitar relish. It's sleazy enough, although Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" already cornered the meat market.
Regarless, it seems only a matter of time before the bittersweet number like "Oh Delilah," one of Holland's prime songwriting entries, is picked up by a cover artist. "It's About Time" -- released on his own label, Dutch Treat -- could foreseeably launch him and the Rent's Due Band from local haunts to bigger stages and coveted contracts. In the meantimes, they'll be raising the roofs at Columbia Station, the Takoma Tap Room, Desperado's, opening at the Cellar Door, and everywhere else in town.