Holly Hyatt’s new album, Wild Heart, is a breath of fresh air and a new direction for this talented singer and bassist. Fans will already be familiar with her rich bluesy voice and her work with father and musical collaborator Jon Burden in their Holly and Jon recordings. Her vocals remind the listener of the great women blues singers, and the band’s latest album Shufflin’ the Blues dug deep into the classic blues catalogue. But this time out, Hyatt is charting her own creative path, delving deep into the glory days of Motown R&B and funk, with a little light pop thrown in.
Producer Clinton Swanson, one of the West Kootenay’s top saxophone players, produced the recording. Hyatt’s new sound relies heavily on his ability to propel her original melodies with graceful horn sections, occasionally spiced up by his tasty sax solos. Although Burden contributes some guitar, the instrument is used here primarily for texture, not as a solo instrument. He rises effortlessly to the challenge, pushing his rhythm through a wah-wah pedal to achieve a tight funk groove.
It’s nice to see Hyatt branching out into a breezy R&B feel, exploring subtle tonal shadings throughout the album. According to Burden, Hyatt recorded all of the vocals on the album, seamlessly emulating an entire backup vocal section that at times sounds like it came straight out of Motown. Anchored in deep personal ties to her home on the Slocan River, songs like the single River Flows are a reminder that nature isn’t something outside us—it’s our lifeline. The song has the grace and flow of not only her idyllic Slocan River home but distinct echoes of her musical mentors, reminiscent at times of the great Mavis Staples. River Flows won Best Song in the R&B category of the 2019 Kootenay Music Awards.
All the songs on Wild Heart were written by Hyatt. Her lyrical abilities have clearly grown and matured, touching on her experiences as a mother, wife and artist. Rather than bewail the world’s many injustices, her need to “speak my truth” as an activist is tuned to a feelgood key, as on songs like Create Unity. Her vocal harmonies and chorus raises this song to anthem status. She wants us to feed the light in our souls and have fun doing it, as in songs like Sunny Day in January or Get Funky.
Hyatt and Swanson wisely opted for an organic approach to the instrumentation, and this achieved to great effect with keyboard player Brandon Smith. His use of piano, organ and Rhodes keyboard are especially effective in creating the groove. Although synthesizer is listed as one of the instruments, it’s not intrusive but blended into the mix. Unsurprisingly, Hyatt contributes rich, slinky bass lines throughout the album. It’s no wonder she chose R&B and funk for her first solo album; it’s a genre made for bass players.
There’s a confidence and an assurance of her craft in Wild Heart that testifies: This is an artist who has arrived at the peak of her powers. Hyatt will perform songs from the album at the Firevalley Concert Series in Edgewood on April 28, 8 pm; the Kaslo Hotel May Days party May 17 and 18, 8 pm; Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, July 12; and Starbelly Jam July 19. To see the full tour schedule visit https://hollyhyatt.com/shows.
The album will be officially released April 26 through http://www.hollyhyatt.com, iTunes, Spotify and CD Baby. Local outlets include Packrat Annies (in Nelson), or you can get signed copies at Holly’s next live show.