Jolie Holland July 14, 2011 Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Jolie Holland's fifth record, the recently released Pint of Blood, stands out in many ways, especially for its diverse range of subject matter (from bittersweet loss and despair to covering Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues"), and, of course, for Holland's most incredible instrument--her voice. Her show at the Cedar Cultural Center last night showcased all those things, and Holland navigated the evening with ease, holding the audience quite captive.[jump]
Holland began her set accompanied by vocalist and violinist Carey Lamprecht, as well as two members from the opening band Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, guitarist Jeff Munger and drummer Ford Tennis. Munger and Tennis, demonstrating talented musicianship in their own right--"Gold and Yellow" featured sprawling and electrifying guitarwork--were nonetheless tepid players when sharing the stage with Holland. The songstress was better off, really, a few songs inter her set, when she was left with Lamprecht (and, later, left alone), as her voice was unbridled and could be wholly appreciated.
As Holland herself admitted last night, she is "so Texan it's not even funny," and it came out her hauntingly almost-country, sometimes folksy, definitely bluegrassy songs (songs that adamantly elude genres). Holland has that dusty drawl that gently affects her voice, both speaking and singing. Her vocals are smooth and dry, as parched and expansive as a desert--that much is obvious, as every song she produces fills the whole room, every last corner and crevice. She delivers the song "Wreckage," with lyrics like "I can't take the razor sharp edge off your crooked grin," with a casual slyness that suits a woman whose roots-oriented career has spanned nearly a decade. On the standout "The Devil's Sake," Holland breached the edge of the stage--her guitar cord stretched taut to the amp--and whistled, perfectly and astonishingly on pitch, through a full chorus.
Holland is captivating and inescapable, and she talks about her heroes--Michael Hurley, Neil Young, the Velvet Underground, Townes Van Zandt, and more--by way of introducing her songs. "Y'all know who so-and-so is?" Holland would ask as she tuned her guitar (and took her time doing so). At times, her banter dipped into loosely threaded stories that were delivered with that unsuspecting, wry Texas jaunt and a ghost grin twitching across her face. Sometimes they seemed more centered on a private amusement Holland forgot to explain, but that was hardly the point.
"One of the most embarrassing things about being on stage is tuning, so people tell jokes and stuff like that," said Holland as she gently arranged her guitar. The crowd was silent, anticipating, and too many quiet moments passed awkwardly. "I'm all out of good jokes right now," Holland finally smirked.
Out of good jokes, perhaps, but never out of music, as her set stretched out for nearly two hours. Holland began her encore with "Mad Tom of Bedlam," picking up a homemade violin (gifted to her by her friend Marcus Dickel of the Dickel Brothers), and it was a jarringly evocative instrument, impeccably suited for her vocals. Her four-song encore lasted one song too long, but was nonetheless entrancing, and concertgoers were left with a memorable performance.
Critic's Bias: I've been a Jolie Holland fan since Escondida came out--the things she can do with her voice are crazy. The Crowd: Mixed, a little older maybe, half geeky and half granola. Overheard in the Crowd: "I feel like this qualifies as 'stuff white people like,'" whispered my friend during opener Sallie Ford's set. Indeed, Sallie Ford--who did not impress me--played, I got the squashing feeling that her strange Portland-bred brand of vintage country-folk would probably not fly with a different audience. Random Notebook Dump: It is very hard for me to resist making all the disparaging comments I have floating in my head about Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, but since this article isn't really about her, I'll just let it rest by saying I was confused. Confused by the way she sang, confused by her awkward and unappealing onstage banter, confused by how the audience seemed to enjoy her, and confused by the way she chose a vintage dress that was seemingly self-hemmed to show off her favorite Hanes whenever she bent over on the stage. (Were it not for the singing, though, I probably would have loved it.) For more photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson.