Jolie Holland

Wednesday, July 28; Off Broadway

Jul 21, 2004 at 4:00 am
Raised in Texas and New Orleans and translocated to San Francisco and Canada, Jolie Holland found a dark, folksy warmth by way of Vancouver's Be Good Tanyas and songwriting by way of fusing lovesick blues and a bit of Beat-era riffing. Her tone and phrasing are gorgeous, if your idea of gorgeous is a pickled trumpet player fidgeting with a mute or Billie Holiday murmuring in her sleep. Critics have compared Holland to Norah Jones, but her sound is more skid row than Starbucks. On her Anti debut, Escondida, she rummages through pre-World War II speakeasies and parlors, finding Guthrie-esque ballads, Satan-certified confessions, gospel chants and smoky Cotton Club swing -- after half the band has gone backstage to get a fix. "Give me that old-fashioned morphine," she calls through the haze. "It was good enough for Billy Burroughs." So too are a few of her lines: "I feel like a liar and a thief for taking air, for being here, unwanted" and "My purpose is to keep on dreaming." She can whistle and trill like Andrew Bird, turn a nineteenth-century British drinking song into breathless glossolalia and make you believe her when she sings a cosmic love song to her ukulele or when she begs another lover for an impossible answer: "Do you have to go crazy?/Is that the best thing that you can think to do?" A far better plan would be to catch Holland before the rest of the world catches on -- given her talent, you don't have long.