Uplifting and enjoyable – Los Angeles duo, Thee Holy Brothers, tell the story of Sparkle’s spiritual quest.
Release Date: 27th November 2020
Label: Regional Records
Formats: DL / CD and possibly Vinyl release to follow in 2021
Thee Holy Brothers are a Los Angeles-based duo, comprising singer-songwriter Marvin Etzioni and singer/multi-instrumentalist Willie Aron. Although My Name Is Sparkle is the duo’s debut album, the guys have been together for many years, having first met when they worked together at Aron’s Records in LA, where they bonded over a mutual devotion to The Who’s Live at Leeds album. Both Marvin and Willie have impressive pedigrees in the music business, Marvin as a Grammy-winning record producer whose track record includes collaborations with Counting Crows and Voice Of The Beehive and Willie as an award-winning composer and session musician.
My Name Is Sparkle is a weirdly fascinating document. It’s a ‘concept’ album, presented as a two-act play, in which the lead character, the androgynous Sparkle, travels to Jerusalem searching for God, but instead finds Elvis. Sparkle worries that God may be contemplating giving up on the Earth and everything in it and contemplates suicide, but realizes that, whatever he/she did, the Earth would continue to function, so renews his/her faith and finds inner peace. Now I’m normally someone who takes a step back whenever a concept album, particularly one with overt religious messaging raises its head but I have to say that My Name Is Sparkle is a thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable, humorous and even uplifting piece of work.
The music is vibrant, with copious lashings of funk and even Dixieland jazz to accompany the folk-rock and quasi-Beatles staples. The duo is assisted by a bunch of top-notch musicians, including James Gadson on drums and Double G on horns. That’s on top of their own not inconsiderable contributions of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mandolin, piano and autoharp. The vocal harmonies are a particular feature throughout the album, and they’re marvelous! And the religious messaging isn’t too obviously in-your-face either. I’ve mentioned that there’s a Beatle-y feel to much of the album and whilst the messages are phrased with the devotion of George, they are, to a great extent, delivered with the attitude of John.
The album kicks off with Elvis In Jerusalem, a crisp and funky opener with a compulsive bassline and some nice sax work. The title track introduces us to the album’s principal character and the holy quest. Sparkle’s musings about where God may be hiding are made to a sparse backing of guitar and maracas. We get back to funk with Woman Need Man Man Need Woman and the mainly spoken lyrics make the observation that “It’s better to be alone with a woman and talk about God than to be alone with God and talk about a woman.”
If God Let Go is one of the pivotal songs in the storyline. The lyric considers what would happen to various people and things if God was to give up on us all – a thought that seemingly drives Sparkle into despair. The song’s structure and delivery is highly reminiscent of The Beatles’ Across the Universe and it even ends with a very Beatle-ish chant.
Act One of the story is brought to a conclusion with Sparkle’s suicide contemplation in A Sudden Gunshot. Discordant harmonies are used effectively as Sparkle handles a gun and wonders how the world would react if he decided to use it on himself. Military-style drumrolls and a chilling bass clarinet serve to heighten the suspense of the situation.
Act Two starts on a far lighter note with the brusque Dixieland jazz which underpins Let The Great World Spin. Sparkle realizes that the world will carry on regardless and makes the decision to climb on board and the music, which comes complete with raucous tuba and trombone contributions, is appropriately upbeat and enjoyable. The theme of accepting what the world has to offer is continued with Glad It’s Gonna Rain. A slice of percussion and harp-heavy boogie sounds like it could have been an out-take from Lennon’s Imagine album, as does Divine Love, the point in the story where Sparkle realizes that he’s found his God.
Keep Crushing Me is the second of the story’s pivotal songs. Probably the song with the most overtly religious message on the album. The lyrics acknowledge the strain to which we’re all subjected but accept that, if this strain has a divine source, then it’s something to be endured. The music is a tasteful doo-wop tune with tight harmonies and a guitar line that takes the listener to quite a few unexpected places.
Sparkle’s story comes to an anthemic end with End Of Suffering, a song which makes the point (dubiously, perhaps) that we all have what it takes within us to overcome our own suffering.
The digital version of the album that will be the subject of the initial release on 27th November also includes a couple of extra tracks. My Ophelia, a two-part harmony sung to the simple backing of a strummed acoustic guitar and a version of Let The Great World Spin on which the horns are omitted but on which, instead, we can enjoy Willie’s excellent mandolin playing to full effect.
My Name Is Sparkle is quirky, entrancing and uplifting. Above all, it’s a lot of fun, and well worth a listen!
Watch the video for Elvis In Jerusalem from the album here: