Busking beauty 

Jolie Holland ducks stardom for as long as her music will allow

click to enlarge Jolie Holland: Recognize her?
  • Jolie Holland: Recognize her?

Jolie Holland may be on the brink of greatness, but for now she's enjoying her anonymity. Perhaps a bit too much.

The singer/songwriter, whose neo-traditionalist music harkens to a sepia-toned era of rail-hopping and summertime porch swinging, isn't ready for her close-up. In fact, at this year's South by Southwest music festival, Holland reveled in the fact that, during one incident, no one did recognize her.

For old times' sake, she did a little impromptu busking on the street corner at the festival. "I've never busked drunk before," says Holland, speaking from San Francisco. "I had had a few drinks; I was playing the blues on the fiddle, wearing a ridiculously sexy dress. It was great! Nobody knew who I was."

Still, Holland is preparing for the eventuality of stardom. With the release of her third full-length album, Springtime Will Kill You, her friends have warned her that recognition will kick in fairly soon. It's a concept that, she says, "sounds very unpleasant, actually."

Not that Holland hasn't been working toward this end for some time; she was a founding member of the folksy Be Good Tanyas before striking out on her own in 2004. Her albums have received heaps of praise, most notably from growly alt-legend Tom Waits, who nominated Holland for a Shortlist Music Prize. And, as if she really were Waits' kid sister, her songs reel in the same trifecta of love, craziness and loneliness, conjuring drunkards and campfires, moonlight and mountains.

Springtime Can Kill You continues along the same lines as her previous work, but adds more focus, and certainly more participation by her backing band. According to Holland, much of it can be attributed to a more leisurely recording schedule. Instead of recording Springtime in about four days, as she had with her debut, Escondida, it was laid down in 24 days still a relatively short time, but long enough for the musicians to explore the songs.

Some of the difference can also be attributed to Holland's growth into the role as bandleader. "Before, I was playing with all the same people for about 10 years or so, but they weren't really my band," says Holland. "But after I got a record deal, and I could afford to have them on the road, it went from being a collective thing to, "It's my band now; I'm the bandleader,' and I could tell them what to do. We've created a more cohesive sound ever since."

Interestingly, the heightened focus lends itself to a dreamy album, from the lovestruck melody of the opening "Crush in the Ghetto," to the haunting "Crazy Dreams" (co-written by folk writer and Vancouver hip-hop artist C.R. Avery) and the country steel-guitar heartache of "Stubborn Beast."

While her songs may be tinged with traditional sounds, there's always a place where the past and present converge. After all, folks still hop trains, she says. In fact, she had breakfast with a few of them just this morning.

"I definitely feel like those people are my people, the bohemian punk thing or whatever," she says. "It's funny, there's a bit of an old-timeyness about us. Americans see people like that, and kind of see where we're coming from, but Europeans are like, "What are you trying to do? Why are you trying to live in the past?'"


Jolie Holland with Sean Hayes

Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

Saturday, June 24, 9 p.m.

Tickets: $12 in advance, $14 day of show, 21-plus; visit ticketweb.com.


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