Review: Mavis Staples’ guitarist opts for garage band basics

Rick Holmstrom, “See That Light” (LuEllie Records)

Mask up, plug in and rock out to a stripped-down sound. That’s the recipe for success on “See That Light,” the new solo album by Rick Holmstrom, who has been Mavis Staples’ guitarist and bandleader for the past 13 years.

When the pandemic wiped out Staples’ 2020 tour schedule, Holmstrom regrouped — so to speak — and assembled a power trio in a studio near his home in Venice, California.

The happy result is a 12-song set built on garage band basics that showcases Holmstrom’s enormous guitar vocabulary. Not that he’s a showboat — his solos aren’t so much high-flying as rooted, specifically in the blues and Chuck Berry, with lots of vibrato, twang and reverb.

Some of Holmstrom’s most impressive, inventive playing is as a rhythm guitarist in support of his singing. Equally appealing is the work of Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass.

There’s considerable variety to Holmstrom’s original material. “Waiting Too Long” chugs like the El Camino he sings about, while “Look Me In the Eye” rides a sock hop beat, and the swinging “Come Along” is bracketed by a slow, sweet melody. Holmstrom sings about dysfunction in dyspeptic, dystopian times before an inquisitive child inspires the uplifting finale, “Joyful Eye.”

After it ends in feedback, listeners can provide their own: great stuff.

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