Image © Hollins Steele 2005
(25 October 2005) Dayna Hollins and Benny Steele are the pop/rock duo, Hollins Steele, and recently have released their debut album, Songs from Vanderbilt Avenue (Hollins Steele (USA) HS002, 2005). They wrote, arranged, recorded and mixed their own album at their co-owned and operated recording studio, The Steele Factory, in Brooklyn. This well produced collection of thirteen original tracks are filled with lush, harmonic arrangements that touch the soul.
Dayna performs the vocals while Benny handles the drums, percussion and keyboards. Her vocals are crisp and clear and the instrumentals complement their incredible sound. They are joined by some prominant musicians: Matt Beck (Matchbox 20, Rob Thomas), Tomás Doncker (The Neville Brothers, Defunkt), Alec Berlin (Rent, The Lion King) on guitar, Booker King (Santana, Kelis) and Buster Hemphill on bass, Michael Cain (Meshell N’DegeOcello, Jack DeJohnette) on keyboards/piano, and Daniel Sadownick (Steely Dan, Meshell N’DegeOcello) on percussion, with orchestration by Michael Picton.
Hollins Steele came together from contrasting backgrounds. While both were attending an East Coast conservatory, Dayna was studying to be a classical singer, and Benny was training as a jazz drummer. They became friends and recognized that they shared a common goal in their approach to songwriting. "Writing songs that mean something to us and other people was much more appealing", according to Dayna. They combined their unique talents and have created their own original pop sound that has an infectious appeal.
This CD has taken two years to create and their hard work has certainly paid off. Benny said, “Pursuing a career in music is challenging, and being self-sufficient is helpful. It's great to have a hand in as much of the process as possible. We want to put the meat back on the bones of pop music and with our varied musical backgrounds and training, we quickly discovered that we were a perfect pairing to do just that. For me, it was ideal to move away from singing someone else's writings from centuries ago, to expressing my own contemporary ideas and emotions. And it makes for a more relatable song as well." Dayna added, "We complement each other and have, with very hard work, managed to do it all ourselves."
The opening track, "Prelude: Vanderbilt Ave in C Minor," engages the listener from the very first notes. Dayna's gentle and soaring voice along with the lush instrumental grooves are top notch. The beat picks up with "Tongue Tied," which has a captivating and contemporary sound. There is a wonderful layering of vocals, enhanced by the appealing pop arrangements. Their sound continues to tantalize the senses with the powerful "Falling." The song is enriched by sumptuous orchestra accents, complementing Dayna's full bodied vocals.
"Fill Me In" has fantastic guitar solos that serves to create a winning tune. They have an eclectic side that resonates through their edgy rock sound. Another gem is "Between the Lines." Dayna's beautiful vocals and harmonies skyrocket within the percussive and harmonic progressions. "Worst Enemy" bursts through with its refreshing and slick melody. Some classical choral background introduces "Interlude in a Minor" which flows beautifully into the next track, "In Dreams." Dayna has a huskier tone to her vocals in this song, showing her versatility of sound.
"Funny" has a wonderful clarity and striking simplicity. Dayna's astounding voice and the appealing accompaniment places this song on another level. There is an urgency to the beat in "I'll Move On." The precise vocal sound is hard-hitting and spot-on. "Stuck On You" is percussion driven and has a powerful tonal quality. The gorgeous and flowing "20/60 Eyes" is an exquisite track with sensitivity in the lyrics and wonderful harmonization. Lovely keyboards energize the effect of this song. The final track is the "Postude: Vanderbilt Ave in C# Minor," ending their stellar debut album with grace and beauty.
There is no doubt that Hollins Steele's Songs from Vanderbilt Avenue is a smash contemporary pop/rock hit. The vocals and accompanying music are powerful and wonderfully melodic. The production is top-notch and the variety of songs are superbly engaging. This duo has brought together a superior blend of lush harmonic sounds that you'll want to listen to again and again.