Reviews

Jolie Holland

Tyler Wilcox

Like Bob Dylan, the studio versions of a lot of Jolie Holland’s songs are mere blueprints for what’s possible onstage.

Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland

City: Boulder, CO
Venue: The Boulder Theater
Date: 2008-10-23

“Sorry, everybody,” apologized Jolie Holland halfway through her set at the Boulder Theater. “I seem to have some sort of… amphibian in my throat.” Not that anyone had noticed up until that point -- she certainly wasn’t up there croaking. Holland’s smoky voice sounded perhaps a tad bit smokier than usual this evening, but it was still the breathtaking centerpiece of an all-too-short set. It’s been noted ad nauseam in every review she’s ever gotten, but, damn, the lady has an incredible set of pipes, amphibian or no amphibian. The opener this evening was a French/Swiss guitar/drums duo named Herman Dune, who were new to me, and seemingly the rest of the audience. It didn’t take long for them to win us over though, with a refreshing sound that blended Jonathan Richman whimsy with John Darnielle wordiness. The songs were melodically fairly simple, but remained sprightly and interesting thanks to clever arrangements and a winning stage presence. They are definitely an act to keep an eye out for. Holland is touring the country in support of her fourth record, The Living & The Dead, which sees her moving in a somewhat more mainstream-y direction, with a handful of songs that wouldn’t be out of place on, say, a recent Lucinda Williams record. Her set, like the new album, kicked off with “Mexico City”, with chiming guitars, a straight-ahead beat, and a soaring chorus. But the song didn’t quite lift off in the way it does during its studio version, upon which friend to alt-country/indie rock chanteuses everywhere M. Ward guests. Maybe Ward’s absence was the missing ingredient, but Holland’s backing band (featuring former Decemberists drummer Rachel Blumberg) sounded a bit tentative, lacking the punch needed to pull off a truly exciting performance. The same went for another of the new album’s rockers, “Your Big Hands”. It wasn’t awful by any means, but it didn’t quite achieve the anthemic quality that the song deserved. Actually, the best part of the latter tune was Holland’s rambling off-the-cuff preface, which saw her reciting the lyrics to an old Daniel Johnston number. But the songs mentioned above were the only two low points in what was otherwise an excellent set. While Holland’s band might not have been able to pull off the louder, more raucous numbers, they excelled at the mellower stuff, and Holland responded in kind with some lovely vocals. She’s a singer who’s absolutely worth seeing in a live context because she always takes chances, trying out weird phrasings, slurring words together and falling slightly out of rhythm, only to bring things back together somehow. It didn’t always work, but it was fun to hear her playing around with her own creations. Like Dylan, the studio versions of a lot of her songs are mere blueprints for what’s possible onstage. Though things seemed even looser than usual this evening, the bottle she was swigging throughout the set was not wine, but mineral water. She was battling that amphibian, I guess. Later, she even asked if anyone in the audience had any Fisherman’s Friend -- which surprisingly enough was delivered to her quite rapidly. Despite any vocal issues Holland may have had, there were plenty of spine-tingling moments. The mysterious vibe of “Fox In Its Hole” was a slithery, beguiling thing -- atmospheric and creepy without seeming clichéd. Avant-guitarist Marc Ribot guests brilliantly on the studio version, but Holland’s band did just fine without him on this one, nailing the vibe perfectly. On the other side of the spectrum was the beautifully breezy “The Littlest Birds”, a song that weds Syd Barrett lyrics to a tune you can imagine the Carter Family harmonizing on. Holland took her time on this song, lingering on the simple but enormously resonant words and letting the music wind its way to a close. The song was one of the oldest she played -- it appears on her 2003 debut Catalpa -- but it’s clear she hasn’t grown tired of it. After closing out her main set with “Corrido Por Buddy”, a standout track from the new album, the crowd hollered for an encore. Holland came back out onstage shortly, but no more songs were forthcoming. She apologized, saying there was no way she could sing another one. She had fought valiantly, but the amphibian had won.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.