CATALPA (Anti) Jolie Holland
A strange and lovely record. It was never intended to be a record, and, frankly, sounds that way. Which is not to say that I don't like it, for I like it very much, indeed. (And we continue to call them records, because it sounds awful to say that it's a compelling compact disc.)
According to the liner notes, most of the selections on Catalpa were recorded in Seth Augustus' (Quittner, we assume) living room in SF, where Enzo Garcia brought his 8 track recorder. Enzo played muted banjo and harmonica, and engineered four tracks. Seth engineered another five, and did the record graphics. The session was originally intended as a band demo, so everyone could learn the tunes. It's not exactly stated anywhere why it was decided to put this out in its rather low fidelity form, complete with coughing and a couple of accidents, but we're glad they did. In a town like Nashville, where some people literally make a decent living by electronically pitch-correcting the sharp and flat vocals of superstars, this is a welcome deviation.
Jolie is one of the founders of The Be Good Tanyas, it's a West Coast thing. (She left after they recorded Blue Horse. One of my favorites from that appears here, "The Littlest Birds.") This enclave of gypsy women are like the New Primitivists. Sing like a 78, don't play anything too slick or smooth, or really too sharp, for that matter. Now that sounds like I don't like it again, but I do. And I like The Be Good Tanyas, too, real well. And Jolie sounds every bit as charming, as truly precious as those ladies seemed when I met them in Nashville and interviewed them on the phone. I fully realized just how good this record is when I read the lyrics and listened closely to the artist's phrasing, there's a lot of magic right there. And the words themselves are beautiful, and original. Just consider the opening lines, spelled as they are on the website:
say you got a psychadelic presense
We like this West Coast, Vancouver/SF vibe, this jazzy retrofolk movement with the soulful sweet vocals and the heartfelt out of time words. It balances out the polished cow pies that most records turn out to be. The artist will release her proper debut in 2004, but we suggest strongly that you pick up Catalpa as soon as possible, and play it for your friends. FG