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Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives

by Rob Lester
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 24, 2019
'Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives'
'Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives'  

A welcome retrospective on singer/songwriter Holly Near, now 70, brings her work into focus and brings her riveting and radiant vocal sounds. With "Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives," it seems fitting to look back, listen, and ruminate through a 2019 perspective.

Dedicated activist for social change since days of Vietnam protests, an early champion of feminism and gay rights, she and her songs looked the world right in the eye - and opened the eyes of many of its inhabitants. A pioneer in "woman's music," she started a record company that released female-centric music, notably giving lesbians and progressives exposure with original, thought-provoking material in a folk style. Like Joan Baez, Holly Near has consistently endorsed pacifist causes, stimulated and soothed communities through her singing.

A welcome retrospective on singer/songwriter Holly Near, now 70, brings her work into focus and brings her riveting and radiant vocal sounds.

The profile, with a comfortable relaxed pace that feels organized, offers plenty of articulate, warm first-hand recollections. Long shots of huge concert crowds underscore Holly Near's reach. Perhaps a few longer patches of singing from that magnetic, pure voice are wanted. Close to the beginning, we learn where she came from with comments from a sister, family photos, and performance clips of initial musical influences. These include Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers, with footage of that late singer talking about their eventual collaboration and mutual admiration, along with film of them harmonizing, later adding Weavers-mate Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. And is that Kevin Bacon joining her at one point? Yes, indeed! No six degrees of separation needed - it turns out that they're cousins! You might not think of this troubadour of earnest message songs as part of more commercial, lightweight fare, but her cherubic face framed by her long red hair pops up in pre-fame TV guest acting appearances ("The Partridge Family"!!).

Holly Near's status as groundbreaker and galvanizer is admiringly commented on by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, among others. (Steinem calls early Near performances as the first to make her see music as a potent communal experience; Fonda is seen with her in clips entertaining soldiers.)

Comfortably talking about her own coming out, reflecting in some songwriting, she calls herself "monogamous" rather than any other description of her personal life, involved with women as well as her latter long-term commitment with a man. She continues to be a strong supporter of LGBT causes. "Integrity" is the word that comes most to mind when surveying her continuing commitment to calling out for fair treatment and helping others. Now help yourself to her story; if you're late to the fan club, welcome aboard.

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.


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