In a land where the blues reign, where California is both home and a place far, far away, and where pretty much all emotions reflect off the surface of the radiant moon before hitting paper, resides Jolie Holland. Raised in Houston, and somewhat of a gypsy traveler from Austin to New Orleans to Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, this woman’s music possesses that elusive authentic quality that demands notice. The success of her first solo album, Catalpa, earned her a spot on Anti- Records’ roster, home to such icons as Daniel Lanois, Tom Waits, and Merle Haggard.
Though it’s the 21st century and Holland lives in San Francisco, her music sounds more like it is from the first half of the 20th. In the era before music splintered into blues, jazz, pop, country, folk, and gospel, it would have been much simpler to describe the sound. Her latest release, Escondida, includes straight blues, a civil war dirge, and a sincere love song for her ukulele, among other things.
Defining characteristic of Holland’s music is the sense of stable optimism that permeates everything. She sings about death and loneliness and regret, but it lacks grief. In her most frank confrontation of lost love, the chorus reminds: “I know there’s a sunrise on the other side to pull me through.”
One of the highlights of this entirely solid album is ‘Goodbye California,’ an upbeat country track that highlights her mystical, finely sharpened sense of imagery.
Other lovely parts of the album include the bits of musical saw, the gory English tale of ‘Mad Tom of Bedlam’ and the wistful ‘Damn Shame.’