Jolene – After The Dazzle Of Day
“Actually, ‘Virginia’ is much lazier than the demo version,” Crooke says. “It turned into more of a jangly Byrds/XTC kind of thing. It originally didn’t make the first cut, but [Sire head] Seymour Stein encouraged us to add it back.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the writing, mostly Crooke’s domain, which maintains a healthy level of ambiguity. Words often seem to be paired mainly for the way they sound together (giving us “tabloid and tall” and “leave the levee alone”), and lines are left to bump up against each other like strangers on the way to the bar, yielding a musical puzzle that requires some effort to solve.
“A Rubik’s Cube,” offers Mitschele with a laugh. “Maybe there should be a book on how to solve his lyrics.” Surely, things aren’t as random — or, conversely, as contrived — as that, but Crooke acknowledges he doesn’t like “to slap people in the face” with his words or be too obvious. “I’m trying for a happy medium; someone can sing along and feel it’s familiar, and choose to dig to find their own meaning in a song if that’s what they want,” he says.
Adding to this cryptic nature is Crooke’s vocal intensity and phrasing, which occasionally makes it hard to tell exactly what he’s singing: Is it “Forget me now” that he’s pleading in “Star Town” or “Forget me not”? It certainly makes a difference to the pleadee.
Another earlier example is the line that kicks off the second verse of “I Read What You Wrote Today”, a song that first appeared as a stripped-down ghost track on the band’s debut EP and came back with a vengeance as a duet between Crooke and Kim Richey on Hell’s Half Acre. My balladeering, acoustic-guitar-playing friend Dave has always gone with the Mellencampian interpretation “farm failed and we’re rid of the banks,” while my shower gigs favored “farm fed and riddled with angst.” “It’s ‘farm fed and ridden with angst,'” says Crooke with exaggerated enunciation for the occasion, making me the clear winner. But my buddy and I are in good company: apparently, it took Ms. Richey a long time to refrain from singing “farm fresh.”
All these things — a particular guitar sound, a saying that sounds like rural slang, a word that catches in Crooke’s throat like a false promise — combine to produce songs that somehow feel quintessentially Southern. “Clear Bottle Down”, the penultimate track on In The Gloaming, is a prime example. It would be unfair to label this intangible rustic quality a Carolina thing, but it’s awfully tempting when you think of all the fellow Carolinians who have shared stages with Jolene, a list of kindred spirits that includes Whiskeytown, the Backsliders and 6 String Drag.
“Yes, in spirit, and in the way that all these bands approach what they do,” answers Crooke when asked whether it seems reasonable to lump these bands together. “However, we’re not nearly the purists that the Backsliders are, and we shouldn’t claim to be.”
Burris has thoughts on this topic as well, but he expands it and muses about how Jolene fits into the alt-country arena as a whole, and about their place in this latest roots-rock resurgence. “You’d be crazy not to want to be mentioned in the same breath as Wilco, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, and the Jayhawks. Are there better American bands making music? My answer,” he says, pausing in mock drama, “is no.”
Of course, the members of Jolene are obviously well aware of the other types of music being made across America, and in their own backyard. “I also feel there’s a kinship with us and somebody like the Archers of Loaf,” Crooke continues, name-checking one of Chapel Hill’s punk-pop indie faves. “Just an ethic about the way things are done in the North Carolina community.”
Appropriately enough, the new album also welcomes a guest with roots in the Carolina community that reach far deeper than anybody else involved, predating those Hardsoul Poet fellas by a good 10 years — back when “musical community” would have been a major overstatement. Continental Drifters leader and ex-dB Peter Holsapple, a Winston-Salem native, plays organ on three songs and even contributes accordion to the touching, album-capping “20th Century Pause”, while Drifter mates and Psycho Sisters Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson fittingly provide background vocals on “Two Sisters And The Laureate”.
Crooke and his bandmates got to know Holsapple, Cowsill, and Peterson from frequent sojourns to the Drifters’ hometown of New Orleans, where Jolene played 15 times in the last year alone. They acknowledge an almost dual citizenship (triple in Burris’ case) between the state of North Carolina and the city of New Orleans, and Crooke sees some parallels between In The Gloaming and their adopted second city.
“Something about this record seems exciting,” he starts, “but there’s also a little anxiety, it’s a little unnerving. We’ve spent so much time in New Orleans, playing there so often, and the record reminds me of New Orleans. It creeps me out and excites me. I love it. But it also makes the hair stand up on my arms.”
Durham, NC’s Rick Cornell and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child on January 31. Jace Jordan-Cornell’s arrival coincided, appropriately, with the third annual S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest.