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12/18/2004

I'm back from Feria Urbana, and I'm a little beat, but things went very well. I made some great trades, and several of my friends actually came to visit me! Thanks Jamie, April, Melissa, Jen, and Jason for stopping by, it made me very happy.

I'm also happy to report I'm going to be reviewing albums for Stylus, an online magazine/blog and home of the Stypod. Go here to read the edited version of my review of Jolie Holland's escondida. I pasted in the original version below (everything's pretty much the same except for the 4th paragraph). Thanks to Nyla for reading the review before I submitted it, and for always encouraging me.

Jolie Holland
escondida
Anti-
2004
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The cover photograph on Jolie Holland’s “Escondida” is a blurry black and white, showing Holland holding a fiddle and bow next to a man in a wooden chair playing harmonica. The photo is your first clue that the album’s a bit of a relic, waiting to take you back to a time when storytellers sang their porch songs in the twilight, no amplification necessary. There’s a feeling of impromptu performance throughout; you almost expect to hear muted handclaps and footstomps on a wooden floor in the background. This spontaneity was perhaps born from the time Holland spent traveling with an itinerant group of performers while the rest of her peers were cramped into college classrooms looking forward to their future. With her timeless blues-folk-Americana, it’s clear that Holland prefers looking back.

Holland’s official bio warns that knowing where an artist comes from “does not explain her sound,” but the Texas-born California resident still has some of that slow southern heat oozing through her veins, fueling an epic “go West” sensibility. After co-founding the Be Good Tanyas and appearing on their first record, Holland set out on her own, touring the west coast from Vancouver to her current home in San Francisco. Her first solo release, Catalpa, originated as a collection of lo-fi demos. Enthusiastic fan-sharing and a nomination for the 2003 Shortlist Music Award from label-mate Tom Waits led to critical acclaim and a healthy anticipation for her follow-up release.

“Escondida,” Holland’s first studio album, was released on Anti-, one of the few record labels that carefully curates their roster. Anti- signs “real artists creating great recordings on their own terms.” Having label-mates like Merle Haggard and Neko Case automatically brings some credibility to a new artist’s career, but Holland lives up to it. A self-taught musician, she wrote most of the songs on the record, except for covers of traditional songs “Mad Tom of Bedlam” and “Faded Coat of Blue.” Whether she’s picking guitar or playing the fiddle with her band, the music shines a warm spotlight onto her voice. Her unique phrasing is an instrument itself, whether she’s crooning like a trumpet or rolling syllables around on her tongue like fine aged whiskey.

Musically, Holland could be considered as the more eccentric and authentic second cousin of Norah Jones. Most of the songs are a relaxed mid-tempo; think of a slight warp on a vinyl record spinning at 33 rpm. Her sound is soothing and pleasant, but she’s willing to push the boundaries lyrically. Whether she’s entreating “give me that old fashioned morphine,” or confiding she’s “just about sick to death / of taking breath / and walking this line of mine,” her laid back style manages to put the listener at ease, even when she’s perhaps singing about offing herself. “Do You?” is the best beat-down ballad for lovelorn folkies since Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up.” “Do you have to go crazy / Is that the best thing that you can think to do?” she sings, torn between lust and exasperation. “…You motherfucker, I wanted you.”

Holland’s still capable of the youthful swings between elation and despair, but those extremes are tempered with a world-weary maturity, a sophisticated equilibrium. “I don’t let it bother me none,” she tells us, and we can’t help but believe her.

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