Casey Holford – Bad Spell, Good Spell

Casey Holford
Bad Spell, Good Spell

Robert Pirsig once wrote that what lets New York City be so bad is exactly what allows it to be great. In other words, its tolerance produces thousands of artifacts of insufferable stupidity and pomposity like preening performance artist Karen Finley, but with a stricter attitude, bands like the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls might never have gotten a break. Because of this, the Big Apple is able to have a thriving anti-folk scene, a genre that barely appears on the radar for the majority of America. Though it is poorly defined, anti-folk generally infuses songs played in traditionally folk instrumentation with punk anger and (more prominently) righteous social commentary. Ani Difranco makes a decent poster girl for the movement, but neo-New Yorker Casey Holford would probably make a better one (although, that’s admittedly faint praise).
If Holford weren’t actually a self-taught musician, it would tempting to imagine him as one. The songwriting on his second album, Bad Spell, Good Spell, is skewed in the way many of his fellow musical naifs’ output is. That might sound like a bad thing, but anyone jumping to that conclusion need only think of any number of talented musicians whose work was ruined by the homogenization of formal training. Holford, at the very least, goes out on a limb, and any success he achieves is his and his alone. By standing outside tradition, he can’t hide behind it, but Bad Spell, Good Spell is respectable enough that he has no reason to do so. Despite his periodic Dave Matthews-isms, he keeps things fresh and enjoyable for the duration, giving his listeners ample reason to celebrate the fact that no one ever taught him the dreary rules of harmonic progression.
Fans of anti-folk diamonds in the rough should be very pleased to have this album whirling around in their CD players (or perhaps turntables, if that’s the way their snobbishness leans), and if that’s all Holford wants, he should be in fine shape. Still, Bad Spell, Good Spell gives off the impression that Holford’s talents are at least partially wasted in such a tiny genre. It’s difficult to maintain interest over the course of an entire LP with little more than an acoustic guitar, and though Holford succeeds better than most, he would probably sound much more exciting with a full band. BS,GS has the inevitable sameness that gives anti-folk (along with regular folk) such limited appeal. Those untroubled by such concerns should have a fine time with Bad Spell, Good Spell. The rest of the world will have to settle for Dave Matthews.