A Cosmic Joke isn't as boring as you'd expect a Salim Nourallah-produced Chris Holt record to be.
Faint praise, sure. But it says a lot about the two Dallas music-scene lifers.
For all their accolades—Holt's as a multi-year Dallas Observer Music Award winner for his guitar and keyboard prowess and general musicianship, and Nourallah's as a DOMA-winning producer—both tend toward slick, conservative and almost-too-professional play and recordings.
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As expected, this disc contains a few forgettable, intricately finger-picked, rhyming-dictionary-assisted folk compositions, surprising only in how unrelenting the self-pitying tone is. Yet a few songs actually manage to evoke an emotional response, such as "Always In Awe," an ode to Holt's late Sorta bandmate, Carter Albrecht. Holt's hushed vocals and a gentle, melancholy melody say as much or more about the wearisome grieving of a friend and role model than the sweetly simple, and sometimes clumsy words do. But the mood turns bitter with the next track, "Aim High," a spewing of accusations clearly aimed at the neighbor whose fearful trigger finger ended Albrecht's life: "Where's your remorse for what you've done?" Holt snarls in the chorus. That ugliness is almost redeemed by the string-accented "Say Goodbye," which is minimal, unadorned and raw, just like the rest of the album's better tracks.