sound patrol 8-12-04
Resurrections and second chances
With her languid drawl, her vintage guitars, and her penchant for ancient parlor tunes, Jolie Holland traffics in what rock scribe Greil Marcus once called "the old, weird America." But don't think for a minute that she's some dusty period piece. On Escondida, her second album and her first for Anti, Holland proves that old-time Americana is a state of mind, not a collection of cornball stereotypes. It's no wonder that Holland's labelmate Tom Waits is a big fan of this twentysomething Texas transplant: She doesn't just doll up the hissy old 78s for the digital age; she taps into their timeless passions and creates something fresh and arresting, something that's hard and pure and anything but quaint. Whether she's covering pre-Civil War ballads or singing one of her many top-notch originals, Holland makes the dozen tracks on this CD flow into a seamless, unified theme, one of loss and recrimination and bleak, battered humor. Imagine a hillbilly Holiday or a gothed-out Lucinda Williams or maybe Memphis Minnie gone Zen, and you'll have part, but not all, of the picture. Although she clearly has a comprehensive knowledge of American folk music, in all its spooky, creaky magnificence, Holland is a true original.
Bolstered by sympathetic sidemen who don't let their obvious chops detract from the spare but evocative arrangements, Holland scavenges the roots-music canon, plucking out bedraggled country-blues, spectral Appalachian folk, Dixieland jazz, and tent-revival gospel to add to her magpie's nest. On the loose and playful "Sascha," she laments a lover whose "real-life romance with a train" has left her overwhelmed and haunted. On "Darlin' Ukelele," she strums a (surprise!) ukelele, whistles, and croons with a droll, understated ardor. "Tiny Idyll/Lil Missy" combines drowsy piano, wispy mandolin, a toy xylophone, and bleary-eyed trumpet. On paper, it might all look like a retrofied mess, the kind of thing you'd expect from a geek with a gigantic vinyl collection and too much time on her hands, but coming through the speakers it's sublime.
(Touch and Go)
The glut of music out there has a downside -- with every dope and his little sister cranking out CDs on their G3s, with every spare-change impresario founding a record label, with the Internet and Garageband.com and a gazillion Webzines forever touting the next new thing you've never heard of, how are you supposed to sift through the crap and find that one great record that will transform your world? Who has the time to listen to it all and figure out what's worth the precious ear time? Buried in the sickening abundance, worthwhile records languish unheard.
Luckily, though, some of them get a second chance. New York indie chanteuse Nina Nastasia put out Dogs five years ago on the microlabel Socialist Records, and it went out of print in the space of a year. After releasing two well-received CDs -- The Blackened Air in 2002 and Run to Ruin in 2003 -- her new label, Touch and Go, decided to reissue Nastasia's debut, and we can all be thankful for it. Recorded by engineer extraordinaire Steve Albini, best known for his scarifying work with Nirvana and PJ Harvey, Dogs is a surprisingly gentle folk-pop delight. Nastasia's sweet, flutelike voice hovers delicately over the sparse and mostly acoustic instrumentation, and her lissome phrasing belies a dark but never morbid sensibility. Tiny masterpieces abound: The outrageously pretty opener "Dear Rose," the dreamy accordion-and-guitar anthem "Smiley," and the strangely cheerful ode to canine consciousness "A Dog's Life" are just a few of many highlights. Don't miss your second chance to hear them.