When Bob Seger or Kansas finish a show at the Capital Centre, they disappear out the back ramp in a rented limousine while the crowd is still yelling for another encore. When Bill Holland or Silverspring finish a show at Desperado's, they amble through the tables and pause to chat with enthusiastic customers.
One of the pleasures of Washington's local music scene is the accessibility of the performers. You can develop a personal relationship with Bill Holland or Silverspring's Josh Rossy that could never occur with a star surrounded by bodyguards. And now Holland and Silverspring both have records that sound as good as those being pushed from the Capital Centre stage.
Bill Holland & the Rent's Due Band's second album is "It's About Time" (Dutch Treat DTR-1001). Silverspring's debut disc is "You Get What You Take" (Hitt Avenue HAR 2801). Both were recorded locally and released on the performers' own labels. Both have the clean, crisp production qualities of a major-label release.
Bill Holland was a Washington music critic and poet before he took the plunge into full-time performing. His former bouts with the typewriter give his lyrics the fresh voice of a personal monologue. His themes are more mundane than apocalyptic, but he talks about love and survival without slipping into cliches.
Holland draws his musical inspiration from that stretch of the Mississippi River between the Arkansas of Levon Helm and Sonny Boy Williamson and the Louisiana of Professor Longhair and Earl Hines. His rhythms are funky enough for cakewalking but flexible enough for a jazz soloist to stretch out. His singing was the grainy ache of the blues and the lusty hope of rock 'n' roll.
Holland shows off his sense of humor with a mock-serious guided tour of "Hamburger Heaven," Washington's late-night fast-food joints. The album contains four ballads that indulge Holland's more sentimental lyrics. But they also allow for some exciting solos by the 10 musicians who were in and out of the Rent's Due Band over the three years the album was recorded. Particularly welcome is the jazz openness lent by guitarist John Jennings, bassist Wade Matthews (now with Tim Eyermann) and saxophonist Larry Strother (still with Rent's Due).
The best songs are the uptempo dance tunes that jump with the eagerness of hungry bar musicians. Like Bob Seger, Holland stresses the need to maintain that hunger after 30. On "Run or Fight," Holland tells a parable of meeting a child, a teen-ager and a dying man. Each one poses the challenge: "Would you rather live or die, walk or fly, run or fight?" As the band fights its way through the song, the answer is clearly implied.
For the two years they've been around, Silverspring's slogan has been "Rock With Violins." The violin belongs to Nat Winer, and the band draws on traditional American music where the fiddle has played a major role. They draw on the cajun carousing of Louisiana's bayous, the heartbreak country songs of Nashville's studios, the swinging jump blues of Kansas City's ballrooms and the string-picking bluegrass of Appalachia's front porches.
Out of these, Silverspring creates a unified sound, thanks to Winer's singing fiddle and a deft but definite rock beat.
They lighten the beat to make it more flexible than the tiresome boogie of most country-rock. The flexibility accomodates the upward spiral of fiddle, electric guitar and harmony vocals. This upward musical flight provides a sense of release from the cares of the world. The lyrics of love and freedom on the road reinforce this sense of release.
The best example of this ascending release comes on guitarist Josh Rossy's "Sweet Freedom." Six of the album's nine other songs are written by bassist Sal DeRaffele. His songs have the plaintive poignancy of Nashville's best romantic fare. But the record's two best songs are the two covers: an Eddie Cochran oldie and a traditional blues.Both are done in the raucous, infectious jump-blues style with the Nighthawks' Mark Wenner imitating an entire horn section on his harmonica.
If Bill Holland and Silverspring lack anything, it's singing and melodies that demand attention. Both records feature tunes and vocals that reward attention, but they don't jump out and grab you as underpublicized acts must.
One suspects, however, that both of these acts would have a major label deal if they resided in New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. These music capitals have unjustly ignored the fine records that have come out of Washington by Bill Blue, Catfish Hodge, the Nighthawks, Bill Hancock, Silverspring and Bill Holland. Until the industry gives these artists their due, they are still close enough to share a beer with an enjoy as a well-kept secret.