In just a few short years, Jolie Holland has gone from being Northern California’s best-kept secret to being something of a superstar of backwater weirdness. Her self-produced and initially self-pressed CD Catalpa was picked up by Anti-, a subsidiary of punk-rock label Epitaph. Virtually overnight, she became label mates with Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Joe Henry. Waits, godfather of weird roots music, called Catalpa one of his favorite albums of the year.
It is interesting to consider if Holland’s recent fame is created, at least in part, by the halo effect of being so close to someone like Waits. At a recent performance at the UC Davis Coffeehouse (which is on the UC Davis campus but isn’t really a “coffeehouse”), Holland performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Keith Cary on mandolin and lap steel guitar. The audience was absolutely silent as she ran through a collection of songs that completely avoided most of the material the audience may have heard from Catalpa and her more recent Anti- release, Escondida. In fact, as she explained, much of her set list was culled from half-forgotten songs she wrote 10 years ago when she was 19.
It was an interesting choice and provided for a set of entirely new (to the audience) material, although it also should be noted that Holland lost about a quarter of her audience during the course of the evening. Chalk it up to a late weeknight or to the simple fact that, as brilliant as Holland is, she essentially does one thing: singing warbly, beautiful folk songs that drift on the air like the scratchy resonance of a 78-rpm record just on the verge of splintering to pieces. If you like that Jolie thing, you’re in for a treat, but there’s also the possibility of over-saturation (as in my companion for the evening after the set was half over). Still, Holland is clearly one of the most interesting new faces on the scene, and we are lucky to have her so close (although she’s traveled widely, she calls San Francisco her home these days). Check out www.jolieholland.com for more information and decide for yourself if Waits is right.
Incidentally, a quick step over to the G Street Pub the same evening uncovered an excellent band that has been spinning around my radar for a few months now: 20 Minute Loop. Hailing from Marin County, the band plays an interesting combination of harmony-laden vocals and melodic pop, with a sound that sometimes references a harder-edged take on the Innocence Mission (or, a female-fronted R.E.M.). It’s a good sound and one intriguing enough to return to. More information is at www.20minuteloop.com.