Holland Channels the Dirty Thirties

Jolie Holland ALBUM: The Living and the Dead LABEL: Anti Records Jolie Holland sings sad songs. This is not likely something she can control. Her sultry, wavering voice naturally evokes images of the Dust Bowl . Picture a warm, eerily barren landscape âÄî one swept up in sandstorm âÄî and now imagine an instrument that matches such a somber setting. This is Holland. With her mixture of country twang and classic strength, she brings this Dust Bowl backdrop to contemporary measure. Her third solo release, âÄúThe Living and the Dead,âÄù throws a little amped-up guitar into the dazzling picture. But this Dust Bowl queen canâÄôt be easily categorized. Many may know Holland as a founding member of The Be Good Tanyas, a Canadian band that canâÄôt help but draw superficial comparisons to the Dixie Chicks , mainly because both are comprised of three women crafting country-ish songs. But the similarities stop there. What the Be Good Tanyas covet is an escalated taste level that could hardly be interpreted as mainstream. The Tanyas make a different kind of country folk, a less obvious breed. (Not to mention the fact that they pack more originality in their guitar picks than the Dixie Chicks have in their whole being.) Holland was an important part of the Tanyas, often lending her strong but never overstated voice with chilling effect. On her current release, many tracks match that former (and glorious) low-key spookiness. Part of her appeal may be the sense of mystery that her voice imparts on every song. The listener canâÄôt help but wonder how such a classically old voice has found its way into the modern world. âÄúYou Painted Yourself InâÄù is a beautiful example. It begins like an old ditty sung from Ma to Pa, the two of them sitting relaxed under a big tree near a cornfield. But Ma is melancholy tonight (like she is every night), so her words are as bleak as her voice is haunting. âÄúYou painted yourself in / you have no choice except but to fly / so fly onâÄù she laments to Pa. Who knows how things are going to end up for the two of them, but the high-pitched hipster whistling added by Pa sure is nice. âÄúFox in Its HoleâÄù takes an entirely different angle on sadness. Now HollandâÄôs vintage voice is all-reverberating and distant. The background beat pitter-patters like a solitary horse working its way down an arid trail. This song begins lonely, but you donâÄôt have to worry too much, because it warms up just enough to introduce the next track, âÄúYour Big Hands,âÄù a song with a decidedly more hopeful tone. The disc ends on a high note with its sole track that could possibly be labeled uplifting. âÄúEnjoy YourselfâÄù is almost a rouse after experiencing the haunting thatâÄôs occurred over the past nine songs. ItâÄôs like telling kids a bunch of ghost stories before bed, but then ending on a sweet note and expecting them to fall fast asleep. And even though the beat is notably upturned, the lyrics are still oddly discomforting: âÄúEnjoy yourself / itâÄôs later than you think,âÄù she harps, invoking some dark comfort. All and all, thereâÄôs not a single displeasing track on this album. The overall effect is sleepy and depressive, but the ride is sweet enough to sacrifice some happy time. Listen to Holland on your iPod; ride your classic Schwinn, get folksy. Let âÄúThe Living and the DeadâÄù take care of your depressive atmospheric needs.