Houston's Jolie Holland began her career with a graceful ease. She made her first album at home just to hand out to friends. Soon, word got out about it and demand grew for more people to hear it which led to Anti Records releasing it. This organic beginning gave her an enthusiastic and growing audience.
Holland delved further into older American music stylings on her second and third albums often sounding like music from several decades ago - re-rock and roll for sure - almost pre-audio recording at times. On her last album The Living and the Dead, she began to make a transition to a more modern sound. That album also began to feature more of a band sensibility which opened things up quite a bit.
On Pint of Blood, Holland's latest, she takes the logical next step towards the loosest and most band-centered album thus far. She shows the changes even before the first note is heard since the album is credited not in her name only, as her previous four, but as Jolie Holland & The Grand Chandeliers.
Holland claims that records from the 70s - Velvet Underground to Neil Young - were their inspiration on Pint Of Blood. They achieve this more in spirit than in imitation. Pint Of Blood features songs created by plugging in, experimenting with a groove, and then hitting the record button when it starts to sound tasty.
The album kicks off to the fuzz-toned, languid grooves of "All Those Girls" complete with a distortion-laden solo before sliding into "Remember" which probably comes the closest to something VU could have recorded. "Tender Mirror" sounds like it could have been part of the Basement Tapes with its spontaneous sound. That ramshackle style continues into the more rocking "Gold and Yellow" which features some excellent guitar interplay.
"June" is a haunting track that combines the best elements of Holland's debut - the musical marriage of her soulful country voice and her fiddle playing - with the looseness of her new approach. From that song until the album ends with an epic cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues", Pint Of Blood provides blues and country in equal amounts. The confidence that Holland and her bandmates show by releasing what often sounds like first takes gives the listener an intimate experience.
As on her debut, Holland has renewed herself again on Pint Of Blood. No longer focusing on a solo approach to the songs alone, she is letting the song serve as a guide for creation within her band. This shift reminds one of Bob Dylan's similar change from his early acoustic troubadour albums to the rocking, full band sounds that came with Bringing It All Back Home.
Comparing any artist to the greatness of Dylan can be controversial, but in Jolie Holland's case, she has the goods. Her songs, her incredible voice, and now her ability as a bandleader show her to be an artist deserving of high acclaim. Her career may have started with home recording, but Jolie Holland has quickly eclipsed that to find her stride.
Pint Of Blood should stand time's test as one of her most important releases.
- Jim Markel
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