Jolie Holland, Shy Hunters Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Mon., July 21, 8 p.m. 2014

Jolie Holland’s latest album, Wine Dark Sea (Anti-), is the most aggressive, colorful, and dynamic batch of songs she’s made since her 2003 debut. She fronts a resourceful band that gives her a rich, varied platform, and her voice is a stunner—pretty, precise, by turns breathy and guttural, and always assured. But as usual, her singing is also the element that makes it hardest to fully embrace her music. She augments the liquid phrasing of Billie Holiday with a thick twang, then drawls her words as though she’s got a mouthful of marbles. She manhandles her words like putty, elongating vowels, adding thick vibrato, and twisting syllables until parsing what she’s saying is almost like translating a foreign language. When she adapts the steady-rolling blues of Memphis Minnie on “Route 30” (adding a nice touch of Piedmont-style songcraft), I can overlook her mannered delivery, but on the skeletal, atmospheric “I Thought It Was the Moon” it’s a bit tougher. Her whimsical phrasing also makes more sense when she’s elaborating on an established melody—like she does on a killer cover of “The Love You Save,” a Muscle Shoals soul classic by fellow style-mashing Texan Joe Tex. Holland’s band is so good and her writing so lovely that I just want to let the music wash over me—to keep her singing from calling attention to itself and breaking the spell, I often have to treat it as simply another weird instrumental texture, but that’s a small price to pay. —Peter Margasak

Price: $14

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