A List of Things We Lost is the rare vinyl blog of the sometimes corporeal, always ephemeral Unbreakable Records.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Another great rarity, and one which people seem to be rarin’ to find. So, this one’s for you!

Pretty much everyone comes to Danny Holien’s self-titled album [Tumbleweed TWS 102, 1972] through the lead track, “Colorado.” Originally hailing from Cannon Falls, Minnesota, Holien had fronted the under-recorded (and therefore legendary) garage band the Shades. Moving west to Denver, he got caught up with a bunch of drug-gobbling rockers and second generation hippies, recording this gem in the process. Holien lived in the Rockies, near Evergreen, CO. His album reflects the pensive and acoustic fingerstyle guitar one might expect, but it isn’t lacking in the frenetic workouts that a Nuggets-era band like the Shades employed. “Colorado” was the biggest hit that the short-lived Tumbleweed Records would score, but it’s just one among many strong, country inflected jangles herein. He was in good company both proximally and sonically: Stephen Stills was right around the mountain in Nederland, CO, where he was busy recruiting the crew that would become Manassas. In fact, a quick search for “Colorado” on ye olde Google shows many people misremembering it as a Manassas tune.

Holien’s hit (his album was Tumbleweed's best success) was actually a protest against the possibility of the ’72 Olympic Winter Games being held in the state. It’s propelled by the same thump that marks contemporaneous CSNY-related tunes like “Ohio” and “Chicago” (also, coincidentally, named for U.S. locales), but the rest of the record is replete with jazzy interludes, lilting flute jams and harmony-laden acoustic/electric orchestrations. As part of the burgeoning preservationist movement, Danny Holien decried development and promoted the state’s natural beauty that would be all but lost if the Olympics came to Denver. And also, I mean, everyone knows how much skiers love weed, so it’s understandable that those back-to-the-land types were afraid the olympians would come & smoke what them musicians was working so hard to grow.

Other highlights are the twangy, tangy “Hick,” the eastern vibes of “Satsanga” and the garagey rave-up “Lino The Wino”. Danny Holien was produced by the great Bill Szymczyk, who’d previously worked with the James Gang and helped B.B. King with his crossover success “The Thrill Is Gone.” Szymczyk would follow Joe Walsh’s upward trajectory, engineering and producing massive hit albums for the Eagles and the Who, among others.

Colorado-based Tumbleweed Records’s brief existence actually owes a lot to Szymczyk, who, along with ABC-Dunhill A&R head Larry Ray and musician/producer Robb Kunkel (whose excellent Abyss is also a cult fave) wangled something like $1.5 million from gas masters Gulf+Western, of all companies, which was eager to exploit the continuing upswing in sales in the hippie music market. Tumbleweed’s most prescient release was the debut of Michael Stanley, which featured Walsh, Todd Rundgren and Rick Derringer. Considering that most of the label’s releases were in editions of 500, all with gatefold covers and lavish, full-sized, textured-paper booklets, and didn’t get much past the region, it’s unsurprising that Gulf+Western pulled the plug after only about 11 releases (but probably gleefully, what with the massive tax write-off that Tumbleweed provided for its parent company).

At 16 pages long, Holien’s liner notes feature hand-printed scores of all the melodies on the album. I’m not sure who’s benefit this was for, but it’s a lovely touch, one of those you’d-never-get-this-with-a-CD moments. Reticent and reluctant to tour, Holien returned to southern Minnesota shortly after recording this record, continuing to play around in the intervening decades with his band Cookies, but dropping out of the biz for all intents and purposes. I haven’t heard Cookies, but considering the strength of playing and writing on Danny Holien, I’m sure what he’s doing today is just as worth checking out.

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