Four random riffs ripped on Jolie Holland; or Birds Became Boards
On Saturday night, performing alone at City Winery and struggling through some stifling sound problems, she sang “The Littlest Birds,” a pleasant folk song she used to perform with her old band, the Be Good Tanyas. On her own Ms. Holland loaded so much ornament in the song that it sounded like three people singing at once; she ran lines together in slurs and dropped 50-pound accents on nearly every line-ending vowel. Birds became boards. What was that? North Carolina Outer Banks? San Fernando Valley? Philadelphia? East Texas? (She’s from Houston, but has lived in Vancouver, British Columbia; San Francisco; and New Orleans. She’s now in Brooklyn.) Can we be specific?
No, we can’t. There’s an old and durable American myth being served in Ms. Holland’s persona: the folk singer who’s from everywhere and nowhere. When she speaks she sounds sensible and centered, but when she sings she becomes a hungry museum of stray voices. She can’t use one kind of trill, sigh, gargle or regional vowel inflection without grasping for another. (That’s Ben Ratliff, New York Times, 2009, which reminded me to type “Jolie” into my internal search engine here in Plastic Alto to yield these similar thoughts, that I don’t express nearly as well…by the way, I like Jolie…don’t get me raw in. ..)
2. NB: Now that I actually read the thing, as opposed to merely cutting and pasting a chunk that seems topical, I can say Jonathan, I feel you. The exact same thing happened to me once when Jolie Holland butt-swiped me for unknown reasons at The Make-Out Room at a Danny Barnes show around 2006. Although I didn’t recognize her and it’s ambiguous whether she in fact remembered me from our meeting a few weeks earlier at Alabama Chicken; I had been sitting the entire time of our first encounter and didn’t realize, looking up at her, how short she is or was. It was 2003 or so; more of a hip check actually, but not sure what it was about. I recall that Danny thought her accent was a put-on, or at least he asked me if I knew where she was from. (that’s from here, Plastic Alto, on some random thing about author Jonathan Lethem)
Jolie Holland — I met at Alabama Chicken and she invited me to play scrabble once. I like the rap thingy she does with, who is it, Russell Sage? I mean Sage Francis? And Danny Barnes asked me if her accent was supposed to be for real….I was re-listening to a Laura Veirs demo from 2005 or so she sent me, girl with a tiger not dragon tattoo and wrote a draft of something and sent to her publicist maybe I will cut and paste it in here. I get confused Laura Veirs, Jolie Holand and Mary Halvorson. (Likewise, about Noise Pop)
Birds of Chicago opens Saturday Dec. 1 for Sean Hayes and Another Planet’s The Independent (formerly: Justice League, Kennel Club). Sean actually has a two-night stand with different openers. Which got me into with JT a riff on Alabama Chicken, the song, the store, the film by Les Blank, not to be more confused with, Jolie Holland (I met there; she played with Be Good Tanya’s, Trish Klein from BGT played with Allison in Po’ Girl) (after meeting Allison Russell when she was in Birds of Chicago, at Don Quixote of Felton, not so long ago)
People can click here to get the new Jolie Holland cd, on Anti. It’s been out less than two weeks; no reviews yet on Amazon, although there is a write-up in or on No Depression. Wine Dark Sea, it be called. This is random digression but I was reading about Ellery Eskelin, and his father Rodd Keith, the song-poem legend, and a reviewer said Ellery sounds like one thousand birds in flight or something and he goes “And?…” I would pay to see Jolie and Ellery…