Irish rock is in safe hands with Bren Holmes as he also moves towards americana.
Everything You Never Wanted’ may be Irish musician Bren Holmes’ debut album, but it comes after thirty years in the music business as bassist, until recently, with LA-based Irish rock band The Young Dubliners. During his time with The Young Dubliners Holmes established a reputation for his solid bass playing but there was no real hint of the singer-songwriter that was lurking within. The ten songs included on ‘Everything You Never Wanted’ have been written over the years and may have been considered too folk and americana for the Irish rock band. Holmes got together with fellow LA-based musician Bryan Dobbs who co-produced and they both shared the bulk of the instrumental duties playing acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, drums, bass, banjo, lap steel, dobro, and percussion. Reflecting his long-term tenure in the music business Holmes is joined by various guest musicians who include The Donnas vocalist Brett Anderson, drummer Dave Raven who includes Keith Richards on his CV, violinist Rachel Grace who has played with the Foo Fighters and Annie Lennox. To ensure his Irish roots are still firmly audible Irish ex-pat and former Young Dubliners bandmate Pat D’Arcy adds whistles, uilleann pipes and bodhran. This isn’t the end of Holmes’ involvement with his debut album as he also designed the album cover, utilising his photographic skills that have seen his work being exhibited in various US and Irish galleries.
Opener ‘Sweet Takin Angel’ is a clear statement of Holmes’ roots appeal on a lively track that is firmly in the americana vein. The roots appeal continues with a dash of pop influences with strummed acoustic guitars and mandolin on the lively ‘You Say’ which builds with percussion and additional instruments coming into the mix. The tempo is brought down but the hooks remain on ‘Can’t Stop Thinking’ which reminds us how important lyrics can be in Irish music. There is a darkness to ‘No Return’ which has elements of folk but also echoes of punk and new wave. Dobro is heard on ‘Ugly’ with a duet vocal by Brett Anderson which reminds everyone what a good vocalist she is in her own right. Next, we have a bit of jangly guitars and ragged vocals on ‘Love On Your Side – LC Blues’ that takes the listener to the early sounds of the then emerging country rock at the end of the ‘60s. The next track is a surprise re-imagining of Abba’s ‘SOS’ with guitars and mandolins as it becomes another song that is relationship-based. As the record starts coming to a close ‘Pieces’ is a lively tune that features plenty of Irish whistle on tune that could only be harking back to Ireland. There is no doubt he can write a pop tune even if his arrangements tend to the more rustic as evidenced on ‘Take It All Away’. Bren Holmes bows out with a heartfelt homage to his inspiration Shane MacGowan, with ‘Somewhere -Ode To Shane’ which takes us back to a sing-along in a Dublin pub that provides a rousing finish to the album.
While ‘Everything You Never Wanted’ is not a perfect album, it is a lot better than most debut albums. Just because a musician has had a thirty-year career in a band doesn’t automatically mean they have the requisite skills to carry a solo career, but Bran Holmes shows that he is a fine songwriter with vocals that can carry a variety of tunes. It is a worthy addition to the Irish rock catalogue that reflects Holmes’s roots and influences but with a glance to a more expansive folk americana future. The future is looking bright for Bren Holmes.
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