Mavis Staples Bandleader Rick Holmstrom Burns Bright Via All Instrumental Foray ‘Get It!’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

We can’t help but open this review with a coincidence. Guitarist and Mavis Staples bandleader Rick Holmstrom, dubbed by Mavis as “Pops Jr.,” has titled his album of instrumentals exactly as Tinsley Ellis did in 2013 – Get It! In the end, it matters little because the guitar sounds are very different. Holmstrom is more soul-based, often playing with that signature Pops Staples tremolo. This is the second album Holstrom released during the pandemic, making productive use of his time not touring. We covered his See That Light on these pages in 2021.  Here, with the second release on his own LuEllie Records, Holmstrom again turns to his regular bandmates Steve Mugalian (drums) (Lucinda Williams, Harry Dean Stanton, Chuck Prophet) and Gregory Boaz (bass) (Dave Alvin, Mick Taylor, John Mayall) for this tight trio recording.

Holmstrom cut his teeth opening for blues and soul artists such as William Clarke, Smokey Wilson, Johnny Dyer, and Booker T., often playing four or five instrumentals before the headline act came on stage. So, in that sense, this returns to his beginnings but it’s not his first all-instrumental foray. He released an all-instrumental album, Lookout, in 1996. Like so many of us, Holmstrom wants to shake off the stay-at-home doldrums and have some fun. He says the record was made as a soundtrack for good times – BBQs, parties, and car rides.

The mostly two and half minute songs bring nostalgia too – a throwback to the AM radio days when we’d hear groups like the Ventures, the Bar-Kays, and Booker T. and MGs on the airwaves. Heck, there’s even some surf guitar here in “Surfer Chuck,” one of the fiercest tracks. The emphasis is to strike up infectious grooves as opposed to striving for clean picking and tone. Some of that is here but the album in spirit leans toward a garage rock tone. In fact, as Holmstrom attests, “Most of it was recorded in Steve’s garage…and why not, garages and funky joints are where we play our best shit anyway.”

The titles are strong clues – the blues of “King Freddie,” the funk of “FunkE3,” and the barroom grittiness of “Kronky Tonk.” These 14 songs depict Holmstrom’s wide-ranging guitar vocabulary that extends well beyond his tremolo style. Honed on blues and the early rock n’ roll of Chuck Berry, Holstrom delivers short crisp solos with hefty doses of vibrato, twang, and reverb. Mugalian’s insistent beats and Boaz’s walking, strutting rhythms form the solid bottom over which Holmstrom dances and soars. Although there’s little point in singling out individual tracks, “Bubbles” reveals great use of reverb, “Weeping Tina” and “Taghazout” show his mastery of the tremolo technique, and the single, “Erlee Time” epitomizes his rudimentary, let’s-just-get-down-and-play approach.

If you’ve seen Mavis Staples live, you’ve likely admired Holmstrom’s poignant solos. Now there’s a fully instrumental album that showcases the unleashed Holmstrom’s range well beyond the soulful, gospel approach he brings as her bandleader. 

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