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Extended Analysis

Sony Holland: On A San Francisco High

By Published: August 23, 2004
On A San Francisco High
Sony Holland
Van Ness Records

Although this listener has left his heart in San Francisco more than once or twice, Sony Holland's newest release On A San Francisco High certainly provides the romantic impetus to again return. Songs on her CD offer a virtual musical and poetic tour of the City by the Bay. There are also, among Holland's poetry and music, reflections upon various dimensions of personal relationships. All eleven songs recorded on On A San Francisco High are originals by Holland, a very refreshing departure in the jazz vocal/traditional pop vocal realm, where for a number of years now the focus of both newer and veteran singers has been on revisiting and remaking tunes from The Great American Songbook.

Holland's instrument is very fluid, light and bell-like in its brightness, however she also retains a hint of sultriness in her sound and delivery that brings to mind the voice of Peggy Lee. The quintet backing Holland does so in a very effective manner. Although not featured regularly as soloists, this group of fine musicians very tastefully enhances Holland's sense of swing and style of delivery and at no time is overbearing or detracting from Holland's performance. Special note should be given to pianist Dennis Burnside who also wrote all of the arrangements of Holland's songs and multi-woodwind instrumentalist Jim Hoke whose very tasteful saxophone interplay among Holland's lyrics serve as appropriate musical commentary. A great example is Hoke's clarinet work and musical paraphrase at the end of "Somewhere Near St. Louis."

All of the above aside, what primarily captured this listener's interest in Sony Holland's On A San Francisco High is her melodic writing and especially her lyrics. The CD opens with "On Chestnut Street," describing what might be typically seen while strolling down this San Francisco venue. "The Liberal Ladies of San Mateo" is an anthem to forty-something women who still know how to enjoy a youthful girlish approach to life and living. The song "In Marin" describes a place where "They say the grape is a vitamin" and "Being sober is a terrible sin." The culminating song in this vein is the title track "On A San Francisco High," where Holland describes San Francisco as " . . .no other city that can take my breath away." Holland's other songs deal with the excruciating ecstasy of a new lover, the depth of an ongoing relationship or reflection over a romance gone sour. "Lovely To Be Lonely" summarizes perfectly the idea of "It's lovely to be lonely missing you," and the almost giddy "Whirlwind Romance" captures the intoxicating excitement of a new-found lover. On the emotional downside are songs like "The Trouble Is" which details love for a man who is forever unfaithful, and "Somewhere Near St. Louis," where Holland laments she is " . . . still stuck in New York City singin' the old St. Louis Blues."

Sony Holland's On A San Francisco High is a very enjoyable CD. Her lyrics are smart and descriptive and definitely will capture the listener's imagination. The musicianship and Holland's voice are also excellent. The only downside to the CD is that it is only forty-six minutes long, and this listener wanted more. On A San Francisco High would be a most welcome addition to anyone's CD collection, and certainly Sony Holland's next project will be eagerly awaited.

Track listing: On Chestnut Street, My Man And I, The Liberal Ladies Of San Mateo, On A San Francisco High, In Marin, Lovely To Be Lonely, To Better Days, Whirlwind Romance, The Trouble Is, That's New, Somewhere Near St. Louis

Personnel: Sony Holland (vocals), Dennis Burnside (piano), Charlie Chadwick (bass), Pat Burgeson (guitar), Jim Hoke (woodwinds), Harry Wilkinson (drums)

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