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CD Review 

by Sheri Boggs


As enamored as I am of anything quaint, old-timey and Gillian Welch-like, it's surprising that it took me an entire summer to discover Jolie Holland. The CD cover is just the kind of thing I go for -- a bold typeface reminiscent of what Sun Records used to turn out back in the '50s, with a grainy, blurry photo of a woman in horn-rimmed glances looking up from her violin while a figure in an afghan either raises a harmonica to his lips or blows his nose. I listened to one song -- the haunting first track "Sascha" -- and had to have it.


Escondida is impressive on first listen but reveals its depths with each successive round. "This would be great music to make out by," a friend helpfully pointed out, and indeed there is something in Holland's voice that makes you want to turn off all the lights and slow dance in a shadowy corner of the living room. In addition to her Piedmont blues guitar and her skills on violin, piano and ukelele, Holland has a voice that -- no kidding -- reminds you of Billie Holliday. Though she was born and raised in Texas, it's her fascination with California -- the promised land California of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie -- that runs through each song like the rhythmic locomotion of a far-off train. After leaving home, Holland was a migrant entertainer, traveling between New Orleans and Austin as part of a circus-like group of artists, musicians and performers before setting out for the West Coast. She co-founded the folk outfit the Be Good Tanyas, before recording her first album, the not-intended-for-public-consumption Catalpa, which was distributed friend-to-friend and sometimes sold at shows. But it became so popular that it ended up on critics' end-of-the-year lists and found a home at many an appreciative college radio station.


Escondida is impressive on first listen but reveals its depths with each successive round. "This would be great music to make out by," a friend helpfully pointed out, and indeed there is something in Holland's voice that makes you want to turn off all the lights and slow dance in a shadowy corner of the living room. In addition to her Piedmont blues guitar and her skills on violin, piano and ukelele, Holland has a voice that -- no kidding -- reminds you of Billie Holliday. Though she was born and raised in Texas, it's her fascination with California -- the promised land California of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie -- that runs through each song like the rhythmic locomotion of a far-off train. After leaving home, Holland was a migrant entertainer, traveling between New Orleans and Austin as part of a circus-like group of artists, musicians and performers before setting out for the West Coast. She co-founded the folk outfit the Be Good Tanyas, before recording her first album, the not-intended-for-public-consumption Catalpa, which was distributed friend-to-friend and sometimes sold at shows. But it became so popular that it ended up on critics' end-of-the-year lists and found a home at many an appreciative college radio station.


Escondida has much of the same raw loveliness about it. "Old Fashioned Morphine" swanks about with brushed jazz drums and low horns, Holland's sinuous vocals rising like smoke from an ashtray. Other tracks like "Li'l Missy" and "Black Stars" employ everything from a plinky child's piano to a tremulous musical saw. These are songs for nighttime, songs to be played around a hobo's campfire or heard in the hallways of a boarding house. You might want to share them, but they're even better relished in the quiet loneliness of your own company.
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