Jolie Holland: The Living and the Dead

In both her physical worlds and her musical worlds, Jolie Holland has always been a bit of a drifter. A Houston native who spent awhile in the Bay Area, she recently packed up and headed east for Brooklyn and, in the process, tweaked her sound towards a more country-rock vibe. Holland's past three records contained an overt, timeless feel that drew upon classic jazz and folk traditions and arrangements. But what Holland possesses — and The Living and the Dead continues to highlight — is such a distinct, unique voice that captures the essence of human emotion in ways other singers struggle with. "Corrido Por Buddy," while winding and upbeat, conveys a powerful picture of sadness and struggle Holland has with a strung-out friend. "Palmyra" continues painting this picture, anchored by veteran guitarist Marc Ribot blending well with Holland's musings. Her slow, folky past shows up a few times, on "You Painted Yourself In" and "Sweet Loving Man," but they continue to show Holland's broad emotional range; the latter is a convincing, optimistic love song. In her past, Holland's never been one to champion optimism, but this time around you get the feeling that she's content in starting a new chapter in her musical life, one that celebrates instead of wallows.

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Michael D. Ayers