Holla & Moan
For over ten years now Australian soul/blues vocalist Andrea Marr has stacked up awards and recognition as has fellow Aussie guitarist-singer/songwriter John McNamara. It seemed almost pre-destined that they would combine forces and leave their native country to record in the mecca of soul music, Memphis. The results on their debut Holla & Moan are staggering. This album would fit right into those in heyday of Stax, evoking Otis and Carla Thomas or perhaps Ike & Tina. They belong in that lofty company because they did it the right way, recording in Royal Studios with Boo Mitchell at the board and veteran Memphis musicians backing them.
McNamara went down a similar road before. His album Rollin’ With It pays homage to Memphis soul and Stax as it was recorded at Ardent Studios. Lester Snell (Albert King & Isaac Hayes), who mans the keys on this one, co-produced that album for McNamara. McNamara was also a semi-finalist at the IBC in 2015 so he’s become familiar with Memphis in recent years. While McNamara and Marr co-produced this joint effort, it stands to reason that Mitchell and Snell helped them recruit familiar Memphis names like guitarist Bobby Manuel, drummer Will Hall, bassist Ray Griffin and the three-piece horn section. Rather than use backing vocalists, the duo tracked their own. There are ten songs with McNamara contributing four, Marr five, and one that is co-written. Initial work was done at Bald Hill Studios in their homeland. They clearly have a feel for soul music and have proven over the years to also have a deep understanding of blues, gospel, and funk. Make no mistake though, this is a SOUL record.
They begin with the title track, a clear rousing, get-on-feet soul tune, worthy of its title. “Missing You” brings the vintage sweet soul as does “Throwing Down a Little Love.” The co-write “History” begins in a simmering Otis ballad mode, showcasing Marr’s emotive chops and featuring economical but tasty guitar contributions from McNamara and the background vocals amping up the vibe.
“Cry With Me” delivers a Motown groove but the horn-infused “Keep It Rollin’” and especially the Sam and Dave-like “Can You Take the Heat” are purely Stax. “No More Chains” begins as a ballad but soon morphs into a mid-tempo exclamation of freedom with both singers letting loose. “Something That’s Real” is a vintage sweet soul tune while the closer “Blues Brought Me Here” does its title justice, merging blues with soul, and serving as a vehicle for McNamara’s guitar soloing. The two vocalists wail back and forth, much like they do in the opener.
Keep in mind that Marr and McNamara are two of the biggest names in Australia where Marr’s most recent album, 2017’s Natural reached the top of the charts and received 4 Australia Blues Music nominations. McNamara’s 2017 single “Rolling With It” also hit #!on the U.S. Roots Music report’s Contemporary blues Singles chart and won Song of the Year in Australia. If you are moved by their music, it would be wise to check out Andrea Marr’s 2008 breakout album Little Sister Got Soul as well.
In any case, this one is perfect for your summer BBQ with a few cold ones. There aren’t many days left.
- Jim Hynes