In case you’ve missed the current pop-culture fascination with vampires (the dead) coexisting among us (the living) see the teenage forbidden love movie Twilight or the HBO series True Blood Jolie Holland’s fourth album, The Living And The Dead, offers a much more nuanced journey into existential borderlands.
For starters, death, in these ten songs, can mean the end of the party (“Enjoy Yourself”), or the demise of a once-vibrant romance (“The Future”) or neighborhood (New Orleans’ Ninth Ward in “Palmyra”); it can come via murder (“Love Henry”) or addiction (“Corrido Por Buddy”). And more than once, within the space of a song, Holland manages to reach across the chasm between finality, poetic grief, and moving on with life, wiser for the loss.
What surprises most is the way she erects her most solid musical footing to date (i.e. bolder sounds and more fully realized songwriting) to launch her ethereal quest. It’s as though Holland has awakened from an earlier wispy, jazz-and-blues-touched reverie.
Thanks to a recording journey that began with M. Ward in Portland, Oregon, and concluded with Shahzad Ismaily and Marc Ribot in Brooklyn, New York, there’s electric guitar crunch and folk-rock directness to grab ahold of. “Your Big Hands”, one of the album’s most instantly appealing moments, even sounds a tad like Lucinda Williams circa Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
What hasn’t gotten anchored to earth is Holland’s singing. Her signature warbled vocal curlicues add an air of mystery (not least because they sometimes make the lyrics more elusive), but the giggle-filled take of “Enjoy Yourself” reveals a different and simpler singer altogether.