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Jolie Holland


Jolie Holland's voice is a seductive union of heartbroken twang and silken lilt--equal parts Billie Holiday, Lucinda Williams, and Maybelle Carter, with a certain something else thrown in that is ineffable and timeless. The music on her latest release, Springtime Can Kill You, is equally indescribable--a mixture of ethereal jazz and bucolic country-folk that is as enchanting as it is unique.

A collection of melancholic reflections on lost love and hard living, Springtime Can Kill You ambles along like a mid-day jaunt down a country road, all the while employing experimental arrangements with ease. And yet, this seemingly untenable mixture not only works, it is irresistible. The opening "Crush in the Ghetto" is a prime example of this--an ostensibly hopeful song about falling in love set to sauntering fuzz guitar and horns that Holland imbues with sadness and longing. The title track, meanwhile, is an old school murder ballad that employs jazz instrumentation and a subtle french horn refrain that underscores the haunting lyrics.

Other songs like "Crazy Dreams," "Please Don't," and "Moonshiner" draw from traditional folk, blues, and country themes, but possess something that is unique to Holland--a musical essence or a melancholy that is inscrutable. "Moonshiner," for example, is a lament that marries old time blues guitar riffs and country pedal steel with lyrics that could have been written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. "Adieu False Heart," by contrast, feels like a Carter family song lyrically, but Holland juxtaposes the neo-traditionalist theme of "the woman done wrong" with an almost playful melody of jazzy brush drums, strummed guitar, and soaring box fiddle.

The final track, "Mexican Blue," provides a marked contrast--a piano-driven singer-songwriter tribute to Holland's Be Good Tanyas bandmate, Samantha Parton, that builds into an almost pop-rock melody. Only Holland's voice with its melancholic inflections tie "Mexican Blue" to the rest of Springtime Can Kill You. Yet, somehow, this is enough.

Springtime Can KillYou may very well be Jolie Holland's musical masterpiece, an album imbued with somber, at times otherworldly, ambience and introspection. Holland succeeds where many artists have failed--she synthesizes seemingly disparate musical influences to create something purely her own, and she does so without sounding derivative or banal. Springtime Can Kill You is essential listening for fans of offbeat Americana. • Tracy M. Rogers

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