For an example of what can be accomplished when you truly set your mind to it, look no further than Greg Holden, a musician who left his family and home in Aberdeen, Scotland in order to pursue his dream of creating a life of contentment in America. His newest album, I Don’t Believe You, runs within the same vein as other singer/songwriters such as Greg Laswell and Dave Barnes, though Holden does not utter a single overly cheerful or joyful line. Instead, he focuses on the struggles and hardships of life. He grapples with the idea of what it means to be happy and what it might take to achieve this happiness; and while doing so still manages to display a distinct hope in the future.
Holden puts much emphasis on self-sufficiency within each song. The fiery “Hell And Back” could easily serve as a single for Holden. Like much of the rest of the album, this track too deals with an inability to be understood by others – even by his family and loved ones at times. Holden’s is able to tell stories with his guitar playing alone. Because he delivers such poignancy with his guitar and other instruments, some tracks, such as “Coney Island” or “Are We Wasted” would be equally as impressive if you were to take away the vocals and make them into solely instrumental adaptations. However, the fact that we are also graced with lyrics makes this album all the more valuable. Of course, an album by a Scot would not be complete without at least one track about a night at a pub. Holden combines his American sound with his Scottish heritage to create “Bar On A,” where stringed instruments surround the track with a flavor of folk.
The acoustic version of the album includes two bonus tracks not available in the original version. These are “The Lost Boy” and an untitled track – and what a bonus they are. The last lines of “The Lost Boy” ring out in anthemic nature as a chorus of voices croon “I will not be commanded. I will not be controlled. I will not let my future go on without the help of my soul.” There is one prevailing topic that seems to reoccur throughout the album, and that is the subject of escapism, or the urge to break away from current conditions in the hopes of discovering a better life. Every artist finds comfort in writing about a certain subject, and if Holden chooses to write about this, so be it. But in order for him to achieve a well-rounded album, a wider range of issues could be addressed.
However, Holden does come up with various angles to tackle this single topic. In “The American Dream” he sings about a man who is willing to sell everything he owns, including his father’s watch, in order to build a better life for him and his wife. Whereas in “As Far As I Can,” Holden creates a short autobiography for himself by detailing how he has left the life that he knows in order to search for a life of happiness. He describes leaving his home in Scotland for life in America by singing, “Gonna trade all this comfort for the edge of a knife.”
The acoustic nature of this album allows Holden’s scruffy, scratchy vocals to be illuminated even more so. He even throws in some uncouth vulgarities here and there, which add gumption to his already brash tone. This guy has distinct, raw talent on his side. He has supplied us with songs that can not only be sung along to, but songs that can be related to on multiple levels.