Joe Holt plays a CD release party at the Knick in support of 'Brighter Moons'
You hear the hooky melodies, clever acoustic guitar stylings and chord structures, and a heartfelt lyrical honesty – all of which ring certain familiar bells.
Ah, yes, it comes to you! The young artist is clearly British and enamored of classic UK influences like Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch, Al Stewart, Nick Drake and Mike Scott.
Truth told, though, while Joe Holt was born and lived the first five years of his life in England, his bio is pretty distinctly American. He grew up in the Mystic/Stonington area, attended boarding school in Maryland and, just a few weeks ago, graduated from the Berklee School of Music with a degree in songwriting.
"My musical influences aren't necessarily British," says the charming and self-effacing Holt, whose years in the States haven't yet erased the soft Bondsian accent. "Nick Drake is admittedly a huge influence, but I think a lot of the British touches in my music come from the classical side of things. I've grown up with a lot of classical music, and there's been an emphasis on writing for strings and the less traditional verse/chorus arrangements that are generally more typical of the British."
The fact that his mother, Alison, is a violin/viola instructor and his father, Simon, is director of the Salt Marsh Opera, might have a great deal to do with this type of educational background.
"My parents were very understanding and supportive," Holt says. "You hear a lot about kids who want to be musicians or painters or whatever, and there are pressures to maybe go a more traditional route. But I've been very lucky. My mom even plays on my new album."
Indeed, Holt will now transition from undergrad to professional musician in fine symbolic and literal fashion with the release of "Brighter Moons," his first full-length CD. In celebration, Holt will perform Friday in Westerly's Knickerbocker Café. While Holt has typically recorded and performed in a stripped down, acoustic fashion — as on his 2014 EP called "Empty" — he's bringing a band to the "Brighter Moons" party to replicate the fuller sounds of the album. Two Berklee pals, upright bassist Nate Sabat and drummer Caleb Barnett, provided the rhythm section and numerous other friends (and Mom) helped out with various overdub on "Moons," which was recorded at The Record Company in Boston.
"There weren't a lot of changes to my original arrangements," Holt says, "but we did do a lot of experimenting with instrumentation and sounds. We recorded live and did four takes of each song, so there's a lot of energy. On the other hand, if you're the sort that listens for mistakes on the guitar, well, you might hear me make a few."
In fact, the record sounds terrific and the performances are locked-in and spirited – and should sound particularly fine at the Knick.
"It'll be my first time to play with a full band in about three years, and it's also the first time I'll be headlining a show. I just graduated five weeks ago, so this is pretty liberating," Holt says.
He plans to stay in Boston and perform shows until the end of summer, when he'll move to New York and continue to expand a performance circuit that's already expanded through New England and includes one trip to the West Coast.
"It's hard not to feel pressure when you just get out of college," he says. "At the same time, it's sort of interesting to be a real human being instead of just a student. And I think I definitely learned a lot."
As a songwriting major, Holt wrote hundreds of tunes during his matriculation. "By the end, you're writing a song a week for each class, and the assignments get increasingly detailed and specific," he says. "You go from writing pop songs with just a verse and a chorus and basic instruction on how to come up with hooks and popular lyrics to stuff that's definitely less conventional. We even had to come up with a rap song from a provided backing track. I've got to say, that wasn't one of my strengths."
Holt also explains that he hasn't been very good at self-promotion but understands why such things are necessary.
"I actually funded the 'Brighter Moons' project through Kickstarter," he says, "and was overwhelmed by the help from friends and fans. But while it's an incredible resource, it's also a lot of work — in a good way. It makes you think why and how the music and the music business work — which is a viable thing to think about. I've always wished people would just sort of find out about my music somehow." He laughs. "So it's good to think about why anyone would want to help me out."
Joe Holt CD Release Party, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Knickerbocker Café, 35 Railroad Ave., Westerly; Ben Freiert opens; $10; (401) 315-5070.
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