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Rick Holmstrom - Cruel Sunrise

M.C. Records

12 songs; 50:31 minutes; Suggested

Styles: Americana, Blues Based Roots Rock,

Phil Plates is an expert gamer; he is a genius on competition boards. He plays Checkers so well that he has following fans. But, Phil is so talented that he can’t help but branch out and play Chess and other games, too. Now, the Checkers purists are mad at him because he indulges in other games.

Similarly, Blues purists get upset with Rick Holmstrom when he strays from the rigid parameters they have established - in their own minds. But, singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Rick Holmstrom is just too talented to be restrained to one genre only. His restless passion for all music reminds me of Tim “Too Slim” Langford who also refuses to be boxed in. Sure, Holmstrom’s deft work with Johnny Dyer, William Clarke, Rod Piazza and R.L. Burnside proved that he could play Blues with a sonic quality found only among the best of them, but on “Cruel Sunrise” the California guitarist’s sixth album and first in five years, Rick was looking to let his creative juices flow.

In an interview on, Holmstrom explained the impetus of the album, “My band (Stephen Hodges drums and Jeff Turmes bass, guitar, saxophone and backing vocals) played a regular Sunday residency for years in LA. That audience just wanted to relax, drink and enjoy some good music, not be pummeled by it. We realized we sounded better as we played quieter - going for ambience, rather than the punch or impact needed for a Saturday night crowd. And as we got quieter everything sounded bigger.” The CD features that stripped down trio of Turmes and Hodges, two very resourceful, long pedigreed band mates, as well as a guest appearance on two songs by Holmstrom’s current employer for tours, gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples. The CD is available in two forms: the all original 12 song “Cruel Sunrise” CD or as a Deluxe Edition that includes a bonus disc of 12 instrumental cover songs. Throughout, there is an abundance of guitar sounds imbued with Holmstrom’s patented feel, an amalgamation of his heart, brain, and fingers.

There is a strong rock beat and shimmering guitar in the opener, “Need to Dream.” The lyrics’ message seems simple enough – we all need to dream for mental sanity. Yet, there is a pounding passion here that hints of the bigger importance of dreams as an acceptable alternative to alcohol, for example. Turmes adds great harmony background vocals. The title track follows with catchy guitar hooks and Holmstrom's distinctive guitar tone. The mid-song guitar solo is especially hot as the lyrics extoll the night owl life of most musicians.

Mavis Staples takes over the vocal chores for “Owe You Everything,” as Holmstrom's reverb drenched, tremolo guitar smokes. Here, and on Staples’ other appearance, “Lord Please,” we get tasty touches of Holmstrom’s highly regarded Gospel and Soul expertise. The biggest sing along ear-worm is the slow, harmonic “You Drive 'em Crazy” telling about a repeat offender, use’em and lose’em female, done in a Neil Young style.

Check out the release in the burning guitar solo concluding “It's Time I Lose,” the CCR shuffle sounds and the incredible guitar solo in “Creepin’ In,” and Holmstrom’s promise to his young daughters that “I’ll Hold You Close” when “monsters and villains” lurk behind doors. The message is sweet, but the guitar line is as haunting as the images they fear.

“By My Side” marries Country music and Blues the way Paul Thorn has popularized, ahead of the set closer. An almost seven-minute mid-tempo instrumental featuring Turmes’s midnight hour sax and upright bass, Hodges’s wood block metronomic rhythm, and Holmstrom’s progressive, thought provoking single guitar notes close the CD.

“Cruel Sunrise” is a record from a creative genius. Rick Holmstrom's melodic tunes, killer guitar hooks, and tight, creative trio deliver music from the heart to the heart. No, there are no 12 bar Blues shuffles nor A-A-B rhyme schemes, but the essence and emotion of cathartic Blues is still there.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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