Holly Lerski “Sweet Decline”

Laundry Label, 2024

A profoundly personal journey of emotion, pain and hope.

Individually the pain of breaking up and travelling are frequent sources of inspiration for songwriters but together they are perhaps less prevalent. But that is exactly what Holly Lerski has done for her fifth studio album. Wracked with self-doubt after splitting from a long-term relationship Lerski struggled over what to do next. With great positivity she packed her bag and miniature guitar and set of for America’s west coast. She had no particular plan to write songs for an album but as her travels gathered momentum so did her creative muse. In the space of 19 days from London to Big Sur on the California coast Lerski wrote seven songs. After a couple of months back home she returned to the US and wrote three more in a week. One final song written in England completes the album. Throughout Lerski looks back with sadness and a sense of regret but does not wallow in what might have been. The further she travels the more she feels free and embraces life. As she says, “The more I opened up to life, the more the lucky breaks came”. It is not a straight line, there are dark moments but the overall result is a profoundly personal journey of emotion, pain and hope. Folk and pop predominate but in her slightly haunting, otherworldly, voice Lerski tells her story in her own unique style. It is an absorbing and ultimately uplifting ride.

Music has been part of Lerski’s life since her father, a sound engineer, gave her a tin drum kit when she was four. By 12 she was in her first band before experimenting with punk and prog. Coming out as a lesbian while at Norwich Art School was a turning point on so many levels but essentially playing art, beauty, self discovery at the core of her being. All feature on this latest album. Also evident is her big inspiration, Jeff Buckley whose ‘Hallelujah’ became a signature for Lerski’s band Angelou. There are also hints of Tori Amos and Patti Smith while Dylan and Kerouac are not too far distant.

Lerski did not wait for the sheer physical beauty of California to inspire her, she began writing waiting for her flight at Heathrow finishing the opening song at her destination, Chicago. Titled the same, Lerski is full of doubt asking herself, “How long, how long/ Will these heart strings stretch an ocean?…Who says I’ll be lonely?” There is an apprehensive tinge to her vocals and even strumming. The rich sound courtesy of Nashville producer Matt ‘Truck’ Roley adds a layer of confidence.

‘Home Is Your Shoulder’ definitely looks back at what she’s lost. Lerski draws the listener into her sadness deepened by distance. From landing in Chicago she travelled by train to San Francisco. Her loneliness is palpable as she pauses her cascading vocals between lines.

As Lerski heads south a world beyond her own opens up which she embraces. ‘Carmel’ is happy both about her new surroundings and her anticipation of where next, “Close by, Monterey/ I just need Clint to make my day” she sings happily because, “Far from home. Alone but I’m not alone”. If this is a turn for the better Lerski never completely shakes off the bad times. ‘Yosemite’ and ‘Tall Trees’ finds Lerski bewitched by nature, the latter sung in a voice that wavers as her gaze runs higher and higher from her perch in the tree. As well as flora, Lerski is captivated by the fauna. ‘Oh Cassy Run’ flits through the woods of Sequoia National Park, “Oh Cassy run into the wild into the woods/ I wish you could take me” exudes freedom with the lightness of Joni Mitchell.

Also healing are people. On both trips she visits two of Big Sur’s fine establishments. Concluding her first leg at ‘Nepenthe’ she visits the Henry Miller Library, with “Gods of Olympus: Kerouac, Ginsberg and me”. Her deliberate tempo magnifies the company she is keeping. On her return she heads ‘Down At Deetjens’ where either watching the couples dancing at this historic venue or staring out to the nearby ocean, she still cannot stop looking back, “Down at Deetjen’s, I’m waiting”. But now Lerski seems to have found a sense of perspective.

Lerski wrote the final song in England but not as the sequence might suggest at the end of two US trips but before she set off. A gentle solo muse about what has prompted the whole exercise ‘Girl In A High Castle’ both tops and tails this lovely, honest collection of songs.


About Lyndon Bolton 143 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between
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