Jolie Holland’s voice is an old wooden roller coaster; a reciprocating saw; a warped steel beam that stopped holding up the building years ago. It falls behind, it jets diagonally. It soars above and below, limboing through the weave of a song instead of along its linear plane. It has, in moments, transformed a room.
At just $10 a ticket and with a strong local following, her show last night was filled. Moving to the front, away from the chattering bar crowd, was the thing to do. Also, up front, Holland and her band—Carey Lamprecht on violin; Keith Cary on mandolin, viola and lap steel; and Henry Nagle on guitar—played sitting down. It helped to be close. It felt close, and right, and Holland was visibly touched by the warmth of the crowd.
Holland played mostly material from her new album, Pint of Blood, but if it didn’t sound familiar, that’s intentional: she has a way of trying out new roadmaps each time she ventures into a melody. After openers “All Those Girls” and “Gold & Yellow,” Holland played loose with songs like “June,” while boldly inhabiting “Alley Flower” with a forceful, harrowing voice.
Musicology runs in Holland’s blood, evidenced by her choice of covers and her frequent referencing of those that came before her. “My dad was teenage hippies with Townes van Zandt,” Holland said, talking about how he’d worked on a studio for Jimi Hendrix and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, then launched into “Rex’s Blues.” Likewise, Holland raised a glass to the recently deceased Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, from whom she learned to “turn the amp up loud, and play real quiet.”
After a fantastic “Mexico City,” the set veered into Escondida territory—the album she recorded at Tom Waits’ behest just over the hill from Hopmonk, in Forestville. “Amen” was followed by a lengthy ghost story, and then “Goodbye California” and “Old Fashioned Morphine” closed the set thrillingly. “I have vinyl,” Holland announced, “and I have these useless little pieces of garbage called CDs,” inviting the audience on the stage after the show. A half hour later, there was still a line of people waiting to talk to her, ask her to sign their albums and take pictures.
For our honeymoon, we just went camping up and down the California coast. Along with MF Doom’s Madvillain and the Velvet Teen’s Elysium, Jolie Holland’s Escondida was one of the records we listened to over and over—a perfect Highway 1 accompaniment to the birds of the air and the beasts of the soil and the fishes of the desperate sea. I always wondered why “Goodbye California” wasn’t an immediate hit, just like I wondered why “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show wasn’t a hit, or why hardly anyone was talking about Joanna Newsom.
It was our anniversary this week, and seven years hasn’t changed us much, we’re still in love. But other things have changed: Everyone loves Joanna Newsom, the buskers on Fourth Street last week were playing “Wagon Wheel,” and Tessa Rissacher covered “Goodbye California” at the Arlene Francis Center last month. (It took Santa Rosa a couple years to catch up to the old-timey thing, but it’s since done so with a venegance.) When it was announced that Jolie Holland was playing a free noontime show at the Russian River Brewing Co., sponsored by the Krush, it was like some cosmic tarot card had spoken.
Holland has a new record coming out, Pint of Blood, and played all songs from it—much to the longing of myself, or anyone, really, who could name a dozen or so favorites from her previous albums. With just a violin and electric guitar backing her and with the din of a brewpub at lunchtime, it was hard to wholly absorb the songs. Same goes for her between-song talking, although she wasn’t saying much; with barely any reaction from the audience, she even resorted to announcing where the amps were rented from, just to see if anyone was paying attention. It was a little bit strange, honestly, and it wasn’t really Holland’s fault.
Afterward, she mingled with fans, someone shoved some weed in her guitar player’s cutoffs pocket, she got directions to Community Market and drove down Fourth Street in her minivan. Her voice invaded my thoughts for the rest of the day, and the next.