Lonnie Holley has taken — in his own retelling, at least — a darker and more serpentine path to greatness than any other contemporary artist. Born the seventh of 27 children in Jim Crow Alabama, he claims he was traded for a bottle of whiskey at age four and had started working by five — collecting trash, washing dishes, picking cotton, digging graves, et al. He spent time at the notoriously brutal (and still in operation, under a different name) Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children, had his first child at age 15 — he’d go on to have 14 more — and was pronounced brain dead after being hit by a car the same year. It wasn’t until 1981 (16 years later) when the Birmingham Museum of Art displayed several of his sandstone carvings — a medium he’d first used to make tombstones for his sister’s two children after they died in a fire — that he became a published artist. And he waited three more decades to enter the music world with his first studio recordings, released in 2012 as Lonnie Holley: Just Before Music.
10 years and several remarkable albums later, Holley announced a new LP titled Oh Me Oh My today (January 11) and shared its title track (albeit with an added comma). The record is scheduled to arrive March 10, his second release on Jagjaguwar, following 2018’s MITH. It comprises 11 tracks, six of which feature high-profile guests: Sharon Van Etten, Bon Iver, Moor Mother (twice), Les Amazones d’Afrique’s Rokia Koné, and, on the new song, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.
“Oh Me, Oh My” is a somber reflection from two elder statesmen of art — one of them slightly elder and with considerably more to somberly reflect on. They harmonize on the titular refrain at the start of the song over legato keys and a lush, quavering drone. Then Holley breaks off into an urgent call to action: “Humans please listen / Because sometime it’s alright / To wonder a little deeper,” he presses. “I suggest you all go as deep as you can / Because I believe the deeper we go, the more chances there are / For us to understand / Understand the Oh Me’s and understand the Oh My’s / Oh me, oh my.”
Later, he moves into spoken-word revery: “I remember, when I was a little bitty boy, there was this song — lift every voice and sing,” he says. “As we grow, we learn each other more and more. We learn how precious life is. And the Oh me and the Oh My turns into the Oh us.”
As simple as these lyrics are, they come straight from the soul and therefore burn straight into yours as you listen — a soundtrack for staring into space lost in thought, but also for forgiving, connecting, rejoicing with the rest of the brokenhearted human race.
Watch the lyric video for “Oh Me, Oh My” and check out the album’s tracklist and cover art below.
Oh Me, Oh My tracklist
2. I Am A Part Of The Wonder (with Moor Mother)
3. Oh Me, Oh My (with Michael Stipe)
4. Earth Will Be There (with Moor Mother)
5. Mount Meigs
6. Better Get That Crop In Soon
7. Kindness Will Follow Your Tears (with Bon Iver)
8. None Of Us Have But A Little While (with Sharon Van Etten)
9. If We Get Lost They Will Find Us (with Rokia Koné)
10. I Can’t Hush
11. Future Children