Old-time meets a new voice

Sound Salvation

Before TV and long before the internet, radio was the centerpiece of the American home. Families would sit around the parlor and listen to shows and songs. Over the past decade many American roots musicians have pushed back to that time before video when the music and craft were the centerpiece.

The most significant movement in that direction happened in the early '90s when eclectic bands such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers took their inspiration more from Stephen Foster and Duke Ellington than from Chuck Berry and Elvis. Their music was vivacious and sometimes arresting, often moving at an odd staccato that transfixed listeners.

But in the past few years the music has moved more toward singer-songwriter cabaret pop. Enter Jolie Holland.

With a distinctive voice than drawls sweetly with a Texas lilt, Holland makes music that wouldn't sound out of place on a big old-time radio box. In her previous releases, 2003's Catalpa and 2004's Escondida, Holland flitted between genres. This year's Springtime Can Kill You finds her settling into the chanteuse role well.

Her honey-tinged vocals wrap neatly and effortlessly around sparse arrangements, mostly featuring just a guitar, bass, piano and a snare on tracks like "A Crush in the Ghetto" or with a tuba in the title track. She sounds almost like a country Billie Holiday.

The standout track is the album's finisher,"Mexican Blue," sounds like a long-lost classic. Accompanied just by a piano at first, Holland's voice bobs up and down like a boat in a gently lapping lake. She pours out lyrics of hurt and hope at a cold molasses pace slowly building as the rest of her band picks up the beat. It's the ultimate ending to one of the year's finest efforts.

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