April 2000

The Hollisters - Sweet Inspiration
HighTone HCD 8114
Released: 2000

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance **
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

[Reviewed on CD]American music has inspired some funny names over the years, such as bebop, hip hop, and, my personal favorite, scat. Honky tonk belongs in that group too. Just what the heck is honky tonk, anyway? My 1975 dictionary defines it as "noting a style of ragtime piano-playing typically performed on a piano [!!] whose strings have been muffled and given a tinny sound."

Times have changed, I suppose. When I think of honky-tonk music, I imagine mid- to up-tempo country music dealing with everyday concerns such as freight trains, drinking (and its corollary, closing time), unfaithful women, and a ramblin’ and a gamblin’. In short, it’s about bums.

Which is where the Hollisters come in. On Sweet Inspiration, this Houston-based gang of four sings about, well, freight trains and drinking and that other stuff in a most unoriginal way. Simply put, Sweet Inspiration lacks both. Great popular music usually is the result of taking a tried-and-true formula and adding a twist, a new angle, tweaking the listener’s expectations. The Hollisters don’t even try. Instead, they offer clichés set in cement-feet redundancies.

"Fishin’ Man," the opening track, is pure faux Cajun, although the song’s analogy between reeling in fish and women is amusing, if perhaps painful-sounding. "Love Rustler" is uninspired macho bluster set to a Check Berry riff. "Tonkin’" is a country shuffle about wanderlust. There is nothing convincing, clever, or inspiring about this or anything else on the album. Instead, all the Hollisters offer are ghosts: Johnny Cash, the aforementioned Mr. Berry, and others. If the Big Bopper were still alive, he’d probably sound like this.

To be fair, I suspect the Hollisters are a fun band to listen and dance to live concurrent with the consumption of an adult beverage or three. Sweet Inspiration is good-time music, and it does not translate well to a formal setting such as the living room. So next time The Hollisters are playing at your local honky tonk (which is probably in a shopping center nestled between a Burger King and a Home Depot), you may want to check them out if you like this kind of music. I’ll be home grooving to artists whose words and music have something to say.