An Unlit Match: Danika Holmes, May 15 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 05:34

Danika HolmesThe typical aspiring singer/songwriter gets started by playing hometown open-mic nights. Danika Holmes is not typical.

The 27-year-old Davenport resident said in a recent interview that her mother regularly told her, "I always knew you weren't normal, Danika." Holmes added: "I'm not exactly sure how to take that coming from my Mom, but I'll take it as a good thing."

In terms of her music, being abnormal meant making her public debut last year at an audition for Nashville's Bluebird Cafe, at which Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift got their starts.

"I have big dreams," Holmes explained. "I have big goals. ... I wanted to get where all the action is immediately. ... As a songwriter, if you can make it into the Bluebird Cafe, you've really accomplished something great."

She wasn't selected based on her audition, but you can hear her chutzpah on the track "Unlit Match" from her debut CD, Second Chances: "She got a strong confidence when you look her straight in the eye / But when she steps on stage you know that woman ain't shy / She's like an unlit match / Just waiting to burn."

Holmes will be celebrating the release of the album May 15 at the Redstone Room, and she opened for the Nadas there on April 24. So she's circling back to the accepted new-artist tack. But Holmes doesn't have little plans, and she hopes to tour Europe next year.

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Holmes said she taught for four years and, at the point she chose to pursue music - she had just turned 26 - she was a dissertation away from a Ph.D. in personal finance. "I ended up writing an album instead of a dissertation," she said.

Mostly co-written with producer Paul Hamilton, Second Chances is dominated by ballads, with some gentle rockers and a dash of backwoods country thrown in. Holmes pulls them all off vocally, with a bright, adaptable voice.

The up-tempo, electric-guitar-heavy "Lock Me in Tonight" is charmingly ambivalent about a relationship but decisive about a little thing: "I made up my mind / For this glass of wine."

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And the teasing country of "If You Love Me, Just Say It" is the album's highlight, with Holmes' voice both affectionate and gently poking its target, perfectly matched with the music: "You keep saying how much you really like me / But I don't want to be another friend / 'Cause I ain't never kissed a friend like that and that's a fact."

Her ambition and singing at this point outstrip her songwriting chops, which will undoubtedly grow with seasoning and practice. Slower, conversational songs such as "Half as Strong as You" and "Annie May" are heartfelt but too vague, mistaking a lack of specificity for universality. And there's not enough going on musically to mask their deficiencies.

The former, Second Chances' opening track, comes from her father's death from cancer, and its immediacy is clearly drawn from pain. While many people will find it touching and inspiring, for me it's begging for telling details and sharper language: "This disease is stealing you / You're mostly unresponsive." And it never gets deeper than surface emotions; I don't get any sense of a relationship beyond the one on the death bed.

"Annie May," meanwhile, has a good hook, marking a woman's long life with national and global events: "Tell me all about it, Annie May / Tell me all the stories of your days." But outside of the barest biographical details - the number of her children, for example - the song never sketches Annie May outside of her context, as an individual. And its sense of history is rudimentary, with "two more wars for freedom" shorthand for the Cold War conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

"Sounds Like Goodbye" shows more potential in its chorus. The words themselves work - "How come when you say 'I love you, darling' / It sounds like goodbye?" - but it's the break between the lines that really sells them, with ample time driving the sentiment home. And the aching singing and nimble phrasing on the title track elevate the material.

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It's also critical to remember that Holmes has been doing this less than two years, and being genuinely good at just about anything takes longer than that.

"I'm definitely looking forward to improving," Holmes said, "but I'm also really proud of my first project."

Danika Holmes will celebrate the release of Second Chances with a performance on Saturday, May 15, at the Redstone Room (123 Main Street in Davenport). The show starts at 9 p.m., and the bill also includes Paige Popejoy. Admission is $5.

For more information on Danika Holmes, visit

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