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Album Review

TOM McMEEKAN
Hold Fast

I saw and heard Tom McMeekan back in '71 when he was playing guitar for Pacific Northwest legends Notary Sojac. I heard his guitar on The Roulettes' album, recorded not long after he left Sojac, heading for Los Angeles with friends and colleagues Jim Lowry (also Notary Sojac) and Bart Bishop (Providence). I heard a few tunes from his Red & Gray albums, courtesy of mutual friend Jim Gratton, McMeekan cohort and liner note genius. And now I've heard Hold Fast. I never thought I would even think this, but I think my favorite McMeekan is on Hold Fast. I mean, I'm a Sojac fan of the first water, but McMeekan has put together as solid a '70s album as I've heard since--- well, the '70s.

Why '70s? Hold Fast has everything the '70s were famous for, including guitar the way the rockers played it back then--- completely over the top, solid and at times soaringly beautiful. And it is straight rock, pure and simple. With voice a strange mix of Eric Clapton and the makes-my-head-shake-because-he-isn't-a-superstar-too Steve Young, McMeekan pulls no punches with an awesome collection of originals worthy of those two greats. Rock, both classic and blues, ballads (including the majestic rock anthem Hold On), and songs with bare touches of reggae, crunch and country fill out a sixteen tune lineup, all original and all solid McMeekan.

Now, I'm not one to steal anyone's work and I absolutely never (Never? Well, hardly ever.) do this, but I'm going to quote from Gratton's aforementioned liner notes. It isn't laziness, fans. It is the realization that I can't improve on what Gratton wrote. Get a load of this:

I first saw Tom when he was the lead guitarist of The Quirks, a band that dominated rock in Idaho in the mid-60s, then in Faith, which morphed into the legendary Northwest group Notary Sojac. That band played all original material combining elements of rock, country, jazz, blues, and swing. With them, Tom opened for Frank Zappa, The Velvet Underground, and The Grateful Dead, among others. Later, he was part of renowned producer Kim Fowley's studio band, and more recently, a member of Boise-based Red & Gray.

Hold Fast takes a lifetime of these influences, chops them up, sautes them at high heat, and serves them up in a fiery rock 'n roll stew. This is great guitar rock. Listen to the end of Tom's slide guitar solo on the opening track, Don't Let a Good Man Down. He puts a long, slow slide to the higher reaches of the strings that just tickles the ear. Listen to I'm Gonna Run, where guitars drive the rhythm like some lost Stax Records track for Wilson Pickett. Listen to The County Line, Tom's up-tempo country romp with the guitar-bomb ending, or Wait, a reggae-based reflection on dreams deferred. Don't miss Strange Beauty, which takes a Dire Straits-like riff and adds a huge dose of swamp rock right in line with the dark-side lyrics. Don't miss the great Little Feat-like slide work on The Farm. And don't miss Kim Lawrence's gorgeous harmonies on the sweet ballads You're Beautiful and April.

But the biggest don't-miss is Money's Talkin', a rocking angry protest of the government response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. 'Don't hang a name on me, Don't call me a refugee.' Powerful song, performance and vocal.

The CD finishes with hope and optimism with the rocking On the Inside about being comfortable being in your own skin, The Only One (featuring one of Tom's best vocals in a touching imagining that love and life extend beyond this lifetime, and the I-Have-a-Dream We with its urging 'No more fighting.'

Hold Fast is great rock 'n roll with no holds barred, held fast, and played with passion. Don't miss it.”

To that, I add, what he said. Sure, I could point out the little nuances, like the '60s-tinged (I assume) twelve-string guitar on April, the essential background slide work on Runnin' Back To You, the solid “horn” work on I'm Gonna Run (which could very well be synthesized but is so perfect I don't care) and others. Truth be told, this album is peppered with little touches and sounds, which speaks to McMeekan's devotion to his music as much as anything and I don't have the time nor do you probably want to wade through such an encyclopedia. Let's just say that McMeekan ain't no slouch and leave it at that.

While this album was released in 2008, it could have been released in 1971 or 2010. The music is timeless and McMeekan's guitar work alone is worth price of admission. And word has it that it won't stop here. As I type this, he is working on a double-CD release he hopes to have ready for market soon.

You know, there was a time I thought everything Sojac was past. A few years ago, Sojac bassist Jim Lowry surfaced with Jacapinto, McMeekan's work with Red & Gray emerged from the fog and then, out of the blue, the Sojac guys teamed up with comedian Chris Bliss (yeah, the guy who juggled to The Beatles on the Internet) to put out a 2-CD package of live recordings titled Live 1972-73. They are currently looking at packaging and releasing tracks recorded at Tioga Studios recorded during that period, as well. And there is the impending McMeekan release. God, you gotta love it. When it rains, it pours. I do believe the drought is over. For the present, anyway.

Frank O. Gutch Jr. (& Jim Gratton)

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