It’s a warm late August night and I’ve got Hollis Brown’s latest ‘Ozone Park’ on the turntable. It’s the kind of album that was written for this kind of night. Some albums are winter albums, some are spring day albums, some are for weddings, some are for divorce. Ozone park is for driving around on a hot summer night with the windows down, the volume up, and trouble on your mind. Each song practically drips with sweat, lust, and bad intentions.
I’ve written about Hollis Brown before. The four piece out of Queens, New York, is one of the hardest working most underrated bands around. Their New York tinged southern blues rock sound is pretty unique. Think of them as the Allman Brothers with more big apples instead of Georgia peaches. They are electric live and each member; Mike Montali, Jonathan Bonilla, Adam Bock, and Andrew Zehnal, knows how to bring the heat in front of a crowd and in the studio.
‘Ozone Park’ has been out a few months now. I meant to write about it not long after it came out but for a variety of crappy reasons, never really got a chance to sit down and do that. Now that I’m finally getting a chance, I’ve had some time to get to know the songs, and let the whole thing sink in.
The album was recorded in Fort Meyers, FL with producer Adam Landry and you can almost hear the humidity in each song. The album opens with a sinister lick to begin the song ‘Blood from a Stone’. A quick drum beat and the song is off to the races. It’s a rocking, funky tune with lots of ‘oooh oooh oooh’s’ and Montali’s scorned lover vocals. It perfectly sets the pace and tone for the album.
Not long after the album came out I took a road trip, heading north into Canada. ‘Blood from a Stone’ was the song I queued up and played as I hit the highway at the start of the trip. It’s one of those songs that just sounds like the beginning of things. The sultry funk sets the mood perfectly.
‘Blood from a Stone’ rolls into ‘Stubborn Man’. The bright sharp guitar lick that opens the song feels like quite a juxtaposition to the sureliness of the previous song but then Zehnal’s drums getting going and the rhythm makes it feel like a natural progression. The drums really are the hero of ‘Stubborn Man’, it’s almost impossible not to bop along with them. The lyrics about being a selfish asshole are fun and come off as sort of ironic. It’s not the kind of thing that usually gets celebrated. It’s probably the catchiest song on the album.
A few years back as the b-side to their single release for ‘Run Right To You’ they released a live version of Jesse Malin’s ‘She Don’t Love Me Now’. I wrote about how much I loved their version, and here on ‘Ozone Park’ they have a studio version of the song. When I wrote about the band before I had this to say:
“Montali and Company turn it into almost a companion piece for the Allman Brothers trio of great road songs, ‘Ramblin Man’, ‘Blue Sky’, and ‘Jessica’. The clean guitar sound, the melancholy vocals, and most of all the pure beauty of clear skies and no traffic in front of you, with no destination in mind.”
I feel the same way about the studio version. Nestled into the middle of ‘Ozone Park’ it takes on a slightly different tone thematically, but it still has those clean guitars and pure sound. I feel like I need to admit to myself that I like their version more than the original, but the two are so different, I guess I can stay in denial a bit longer.
‘Do Me Right’ follows up ‘She Don’t Love Me Now’ and I feel pretty good about calling it the key track on the album. It starts out with a long tone and then the guitar and drums make their way in, slowly building up to the whole thing kicking off about 30 seconds in. Eventually Montali sings the opening line ‘I didn’t know if you could change me, I didn’t know if you were real, but that look in your eye’ in lower voice than he normally sings. The whole thing feels very cinematic and dramatic. “I could change I swear”, Montali lies halfway through the song. Every once in a while a song comes along where if you had to explain rock and roll to an alien, you could just play it for em and they would say, “Ahh, I get it”. ‘Do Me Right’ is one of those songs. It smolders as it comes out of the speakers. Bonilla is the real star with some killer guitar work. Clocking in at 4:38 it’s the longest song on the album and everyone gets a chance to breathe and strut their stuff. The outro feels like watching someone walk out of your life and slam the door.
‘Do Me Right’ is such a great song that the album gives you a moment to catch your breath with ‘After the Fire’. It’s not so much a song as a soundscape recorded by Bonilla and given it’s name because of an actual fire. Originally the intro to ‘Forever In Me’, it works as a break in the album, almost an intermission. If you get the album on vinyl, it’s the last song on side one, so it’s where you’d flip the record. I dig it.
‘Forever In Me’ is the slowest number on the album. Montali sings the song like a 70’s R&B singer. The music starts out feeling more like a texture than anything else, with a beat straight from a 1980’s casio keyboard. Eventually the band kicks in and the whole thing starts to feel more natural, although the wah wah guitar is still a bit odd on the album. It’s a nice love song, and really shows that the band is capable of just about anything if they want to be. While I do like it, it makes me think of awkward school dances back in the 80’s and it’s hard for me to get past that. Your results will hopefully vary.
The album starts to pick the pace back up with the ‘Someday Soon’. There’s a 70’s Laurel Canyon vibe to the song. I could hear Carol King or James Taylor singing it without having to stretch my imagination too much. There’s a romance to it that feels more earnest than the cynical takes on love and passion throughout the rest of the album. “Without question, without judgement” Montali sings and I know I believe him.
Like ‘Stubborn Man’, ‘The Way She Does It’ is incredibly catchy. It’s got maybe the best hook on the whole album, and it bops along at a pop pace and is just pure fun. The vocals are plaintive and almost innocent, the drums are peppy. It’s a great tune that feels less serious than the rest of the album. I don’t mean to say it’s a throwaway song, it’s not, it just feels like moody. If the album was a soundtrack, this song would be what played during the dance number right before the climax.
The last two songs get back into the down and dirty business of blues rock and roll. ‘Bad Mistakes’ takes its cue from the earlier songs. It’s villainous. It’s mean. It’s mainline rock and roll. The whole song sounds like a growl and a sneer. The fuzzy guitars and driving beat are pure garage rock. Charles Murray would take one listen and thing that Hollis Brown belonged in the garage with the Clash. I’m listening to it in my office, and it just makes me want to head out into the hot August night and do things I regret in the morning.
The final song on the album is another filthy good rock and roll song, ‘Go For It’. Montali sings it with the same sneer as in ‘Bad Mistakes’ and lets you know that this is the mission statement. This is what the band is the bands final thoughts on 2019 and the years since their last album. It’s tough, angry, and the kind of song you have to turn up and blow out the speakers.
‘Ozone Park’ is the kind of album that you need to play loud. It’s a tight 34 minute of music that feels like going a few rounds with a six pack and a bottle of whiskey. I love every second of it. Hollis Brown have always operated with a kind of rock and roll muscle, with an edge of musicianship that can take familiar sounds and turn them into something bold, timely, and inspiring. They should be playing stadiums instead of bars, and if they keep making albums like ‘Ozone Park’ they’ll get there.
The album feels like a sermon from uncorrupted priests, teaching the low down gospel of New York rock and roll, and on this hot summer night, I’m ready to pray at their alter.