Review: Randy Holden ‘Population III’

Randy Holden, you might know him from bands such as The Other Half, Blue Cheer, or for all the surf rockers out there, The Fender IV/Sons of Adam. Recently Holden came back on the radar with his classic 1970 record Population II being reissued in 2020 by top stoner, doom, and psych label RidingEasy Records.

Randy Holden 'Population III'

Population III comprises of tracks that were cut back in 2010 and features Holden himself along with Cactus’ Randy Pratt and one-time Black Sabbath/Blue Öyster Cult/Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli, these had until now remained unreleased. Holden mentions in the promo notes that ‘A year ago, in 2021 I listened to the songs and was delightfully surprised,’ and that he believes it to be ‘the best album I’ve ever done’, all of which sounds incredibly promising.

The promo-notes reference Led Zeppelin and that is certainly the impression I get with Living End with the middle-eastern scales, John Bonham heavy arse drumming and the all round epic feel of the track ala Kashmir. Randy‘s vocals seem to borrow a little from Robert Plant, there’s even some harmonica that would have been utilised on Zep tracks like Bring It On Home. This is a brilliant way to start the album and as Holden was a contemporary of the Zeppelin boys, the track feels a little more authentic than what the likes of Greta Van Fleet and Wolfmother have offered up in recent years.

Sands Of Time by comparison has a more meditative quality such as can be found on albums from the likes of Om; hypnotic trance like drumming, dreamy vocals, rumbling bass and weaving psychedelic guitar work. Outfits such as the sadly defunct Samsara Blues Explosion also spring to mind and makes you wonder whether Holden has been drawing inspiration from more ‘modern’ influences.

the cadence of the vocals as well as the music’s twisted acid rock/psych rock echo the great man to stunning effect…

At over twenty-two minutes Land Of The Sun is an absolute monster and the longest on the record by quite some distance and it’s not the first time Holden has jammed tracks of this length as Prayer To Paradise from Guitar God 2001 and Raptor from the album of the same name would testify to. The stellar guitar work by Holden puts your average shredder like Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani to shame, there is a graceful fluidity, soul, and passion in the playing as opposed to showy displays of virtuosity, by far my favourite number on the album.

Swamp Stomp is a gritty, dirty blues number that reminds one of Eric Clapton during his Cream heyday and tracks such as Tales Of Brave Ulysses. Even someone like myself who has never been particularly fussed about Clapton can enjoy it. Money’s Talkin is akin to an undiscovered gem from Axis: Bold As Love, and to be fair you couldn’t be from Holden‘s generation and not be influenced by Hendrix in some way. Both the cadence of the vocals as well as the music’s twisted acid rock/psych rock echo the great man to stunning effect. Outside Looking In concludes the album in an unexpected yet pleasant acoustic fashion and demonstrates to the listener that Holden is no one trick pony.

How Holden has not achieved the same level of mainstream acclaim/recognition as the aforementioned Hendrix and Clapton is beyond me. Maybe it was the two decade plus absence, the musical restlessness where he forged his own path, his unwillingness to sell out Clapton style with appallingly sappy ballads like Wonderful Tonight. Whatever the reasons it’s purely academic, what matters is he’s back with a vengeance delivering a superb record in the form of Population III that you need to own ASAP!

Label: RidingEasy Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills