On paper, Fabian Holland comes across as someone with plenty of promise. Having studied at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford (a place where Newton Faulkner, another solo acoustic chap who’s done pretty well for himself, was taught his craft). He then headed off to Italy, where he spent a good few years in the Abruzzo region developing his craft by constant busking and writing, and perhaps sampling the odd glass or two of Montepulciano.
You can tell from the general mood of this self-titled debut that Holland is a man who has endured a fair deal (not something usually obvious on a debut) and, bar the odd exception, melancholy and sadness reigns supreme. Those expecting a happy-go-lucky introduction will be immediately thrown as Holland makes a decent stab of mixing traditional covers, stories and autobiographical tales.
The Landlord’s Daughter showcases him in full-on storytelling mode from the get-go – there’s tension, drama and some grittiness thrown in too. It’s functional and, whilst it lacks the flair of more accomplished songwriters, his guitar playing on this makes up for this shortcoming and it’s to his credit that you feel that any other bits of instrumentation would be unnecessary.
Mad Eric is even better and proves to be the standout of the LP. It’s also fairly negative, what with it being a story of a character with “no home, no money, no job”. Melancholic in some parts and profoundly bleak in others, it doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome (it’s the longest track, clocking in at just over seven minutes). For something more concise, Home is as personal and soul-baring as Holland gets, built on aspirations and all the obstacles that stand in the way of realising them. It’s pleasing enough, even if the tugging-on-the-heartstrings moments are not exactly subtle.
The originals are by far the best moments to be found and it’s a shame the covers aren’t nearly as good. His rendition of the bleak Hard Time Killing Floor Blues is a bit dull and the pair of traditional standards are well performed and don’t jar with the rest of the material – Dr Price and Banks Of The Dee contain similar themes – but they aren’t necessarily spellbinding either. Instead, they are capable and reliable – unlikely to go unnoticed but also lacking in power.
It’s a shame that there isn’t more weight because you get the sense that Holland is a man with lots of stories to tell. Every now and again you get a glimpse of a songwriter who seems capable of writing tales, tall or otherwise, that enthrall and mesmerise. Yet for all its intimacy and its high points, his album’s inconsistency proves to be its downfall.