Journeyman drummer Steve Holley has provided some of the most solid and creative beats for Paul McCartney, Kiki Dee, Joe Cocker, Julian Lennon, and Ian Hunter over the years, and though he recorded a couple of tracks in the U.K. in January of 1980 (included here), those beats never got the opportunity to be heard backing him up until the release of The Reluctant Dog, a 13-track collection of melodies and feelings that are well worth the wait. For those put off by the manufactured pop that Phil Collins runs off the assembly line, The Reluctant Dog will provide much satisfaction. Produced by Holley and bassist/guitarist Keith Lentin, the album is chock-full of surprises -- the short and sweet instrumental "Punta del Este (with daughter Amanda Holley on flute) and a bubbling Genesis-like "Entertain You" to mention just two. Holley (also listed in many credits over the years as Holly without the "e") delivers splashes of Beatles on one of the early tracks, "For Better or for Worse," which resembles the Fab Four's "Free as a Bird" phase, though recorded 15 years before that classic hit the Top Ten. This early recording features Holley on vocals, glockenspiel, piano, and drums, with Nick Pearson's electric guitar and Phil Curtis on bass. The drummer was concerned about adding the two decade-old tracks into this mix, but they bring much to the set.
"Living for Today," the other number from the British sessions, features Wings bandmate Denny Laine on harmony vocals and, with all due respect to Laine (who has numerous classics on his solo recordings), this particular tune would have fit on a Wings album much better than the items Laine chose to contribute to Paul McCartney's band. The keyboards sound accordion-like, an instrument that Sean Fleming brings to the very next track, "Da Da Da, Dee Dee Dee." If it had the chance, "Just Say Goodbye" might have been the perfect sequel to Julian Lennon's biggest hit, "Too Late for Goodbyes," with a slower tempo and darker tones. It's one of the best of many superior tracks. As Joey Molland's This Way Up and Ian McLagan's Best of British were powerful statements by sidemen who were involved in greatness, Steve Holley's work here also demands attention. Titles like "She Gives to Me" and "What Are You Looking For?" would have certainly made noise in another time. Let's hope this material finds the audience it deserves and doesn't go the way of many a Kiki Dee album -- brilliant work lost in the shuffle that is this business of music. The Angel Air label is intent on releasing all things related to Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter, and The Reluctant Dog is a nice addition to the collection, resplendent in its colorful eight-page booklet containing lyrics, credits, and photos. It's more than an impressive first album and one that should have seen the light of day long before 2003. "Everything Ends Sometime" and "Living for Today" also deserve mention.