The full band sound on Hollie Rogers’ debut album, ‘Criminal Heart’, compliments well her style and delivery as a singer-songwriter. After hearing her live only as an acoustic act, it came as somewhat of a relief that the added layers of instrumentation on the record do not overpower the lyrics or vocal sentiment that make her such an endearing new artist on the scene. Instead, they gently contribute to a seamless mix of folk and blues through which Rogers tells her stories with understated passion.
The drum and bass set the tone on the title track, which kicks off the album with plenty of attitude. It is the kind tinged with helpless regret from unruly behaviour blamed on “a criminal heart”. Such a heart is not without its humour though. ‘Strange’ combines the observational comedy of a branch of country music with a romanticism soaked in the sound of the blues. It makes for an entertaining track, as does ‘The Coast Road’, though it is the sense of place captured by the simplicity of the acoustic guitar that makes it so. Hollie’s whimsical vocals and Pete Whitfield’s violin only contribute to turning it into a thing of beauty sandwiched in between two songs with a Gospel inflection. The first, ‘Love’, speaks in its chorus of where love can be found: “down in the ditches/ at the bottom of a barrel…/ on the back of a toilet in a motel room…/ hanging from a streetlamp, tied up with laces”. The second, ‘Bring Me Some Peace’, reflects on how dark those places can be sometimes, in the midst of a mental health crisis, with personal battles, daily struggles, and past abuses all caving in. “O Lord, I am sorry, bring me some peace” is a line that echoes as a prayer at the end of an affecting song that is strikingly honest in its pain and hope.
‘Love & Distance’, featuring Jamie Lawson and Robben Ford, is a lovesong full of longing, marked by separation. Its chorus in particular instils a sense of yearning for what can’t be had (in this case the presence of a loved one) through the softness of drum brushes and Lawson’s ever-pensive voice. ‘Girl on a Mission’ then adds a certain smokiness to proceedings, with flashes of cello (again, courtesy of Whitfield) bringing this song to life. ‘One Last Time’ turns down the heat with some country-folk heartache before ‘Sinner’ cranks it back up again with a sultry, jazz-inflected arrangement. The final two songs then sum up the overall feel of the album. ‘The Man You Had To Be’ showcases the folk-blues flavour that runs through most of the album while ‘City of Colour’ captures Hollie Rogers’ often-contralto voice, which here matches the piano perfectly to create a captivating ballad.
‘Criminal Heart’ ends as it begins, with intriguing lyrics wrapped in a fascinating musical arrangement. It makes for a solid debut from this Cornish singer.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on 17th September 2022.
Featured Image (C) Hollie Rogers