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A interview with Jerry

Jerry Holland and John Doyle, "Helping Hands"
Review Sean Smith special to The Bir

No way. No way could this CD live up to expectations, right? Right. It exceeds them. This is, after all, the very last recording made by Brockton native Jerry Holland, completed only a few weeks before his death from cancer this past July. And it's an equally valuable keepsake of an all-too-rare, but memorable partnership between two icons of traditional music (whose last appearance together, appropriately enough, was at the 2008 ICONS Festival). So, yes, there's a certain poignancy to this affair, but "Helping Hands" is anything but funereal and grim &endash; more like two friends who simply wanted to put aside whatever forebodings might have been lurking at that time, and enjoy being together. It shows:

The playing is exuberant and buoyant by turns, as well as passionate and sensitive. The tunes cover a wide range of time and territory in Holland's life &endash; "My Cape Breton Home," "All My Friends," "Lumber Camp Waltz," "Tears," "Angus Chisholm's Favorite" among them &endash; and while a number of them were on previous recordings, they're given an exciting freshness by John Doyle's accompaniment; you've really never heard them like this before.

The liner notes written by Holland offer additional enjoyment, lending insight to the significance each tune had for Holland, whether traditional or contemporary, or one of his own compositions. These include a few references to Holland's Boston connections: He credits the slow air and reel "She Put Her Knee of the Old Man" to Bill Lamey, whose weekly Cape Breton dances in the Orange Hall of Brookline were foundational to Holland's musical education, for example. "Larry Reynold's Fancy," meanwhile, is the jig Holland com-posed for Boston's much-revered Irish music stalwart, a long-time friend of Holland and his family. We also learn from the notes that the album's titletune was one of Holland's last compositions &endash; "just a tune for everybody, all the fine folks who have been helping me out in different ways the past few years."

Listening to him play here, it seems unfathomable that his life was so near the end. But "Helping Hands" is yet another reason why Jerry Holland's legacy has only just begun.


November 2009

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