Written by Jeff Modzelewski

Holly Bowling entered the jam scene by giving fans something they never even knew they wanted.  She took the two biggest pillars of the jam band scene, The Grateful Dead and Phish, and re-imagined their music in a classical piano style.  After gaining YouTube fame with her version of the infamous “Tahoe Tweezer,” Bowling hit the road, released a pair of albums, co-founded the band Ghost Note, and proved that she not only had the musical chops to hang but also an incredible stage presence and energy.  Captivating a crowd isn’t easy, especially from behind a piano, but Bowling has proven her ability to do just that in multiple settings.  Her first live album, Live At The Old Church, highlights everything that has made Holly Bowling a rising star.

One of my favorite things about this album is that you don’t need to be a massive Deadhead or Phish Phan to appreciate what she’s doing.  You don’t even have to be a fan of the original source material at all (although it certainly adds some cool insights to her music if you are).  Bowling’s work shows, first and foremost, that she is an immensely talented musician. The source material is less important than the ability she brings to her instrument.  She’s able to take a variety of classic songs and turn them into exceptional piano pieces, while also adding her own style. After opening with a beautiful rendition of “Lost Sailor” into “My Friend, My Friend,” her extended “Weather Report Suite” showed a lot of that personal flair.  A long-time Deadhead or Phish fan would likely be able to listen to her playing and hear her renditions of classic Dead jams in the excellent “Let It Grow” or Trey’s guitar fills on “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” but to an average listener what comes out is Bowling’s style and ability.  

Of course, it IS a lot of fun listening to this amazing piano music and also hearing songs that you enjoy in a completely new environment.  The latter half of the album includes songs that would be easy to pick out for even casual Dead or Phish fans. Phish’s “Theme From The Bottom” and “Piper” both make an appearance, with the former having possibly the best “jam” section on the album.   “Slipknot->Franklin’s Tower” is instantly recognizable, as is the closing “Brokedown Palace.”  

The one thing that is more difficult for Bowling to replicate is the more trippy or psychedelic jams that are so prevalent in the source material.   She seems to have gone for that during “Dark Star,” but the result wasn’t quite what you would get from a solid Dead version of the tune. She had more success with the end of the “Weather Report Suite” and “Theme From The Bottom,” although both felt repetitive at times as well.  The good thing is none of these instances drag down the rest of the album, they just aren’t quite as impressive as other pieces of what she’s doing. It also showed her willingness to take chances and avoid playing it safe, which makes sense given the music that she’s working with.

Overall, as a person who is neither a massive Deadhead, Phish Phan, or lover of classical piano music, this album was a complete win for me.  It’s beautiful in a variety of ways. Bowling shows a great love of the music she’s playing and plays it with a level of talent and intensity that matches the artists that she’s covering.  I can absolutely see myself putting this album on to relax, meditate, or get work done. This music can bridge gaps between Deadheads and Phish Phans and also bring in lovers of piano music into the mix as well.  Worth multiple listens, and something that can be put on in a variety of settings.

Holly Bowling will be on tour starting August 23.  You can find dates at her website.