written by Maria Arroyo
Folk singer/songwriter, Jolie Holland, recently dropped her album Escondida. The album is a link to stories complemented by her musical aesthetic. She explores so many sides of genres and ideas that really diversified her album for me.
Her first song is the first of many that showcase her storytelling ability. “Amen” pulls styles from musicians like Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald that are known for their exceptional work as jazz singers. The accompanist and Holland work so well with one another and their chemistry does not go unnoticed. There’s a lot of rising and fall in this song and it makes me super excited for the rest of what I was going to hear.
“Black Stars” really challenges her vocal ability which is always something I respect. The switches in her registers are great and the conviction behind her lyrics is an added bonus. The simplicity of the instrumentation and the softness of her voice makes for a great balance.
Her next song, “Damn Shame,” starts with a bluesy-inspired piano and string arrangement that segways perfectly into a shift in the album. There are some more modern pop lyrical ideas that make her music more relatable. All of the instruments complement each other very well and only makes me enjoy the album more. It’s reminiscent of an early 2000’s pop-country song: the track is relatable in her story while keeping the rest of the song relatively simple which makes for a terrific listen. The same can be said for her other song “Goodbye California.” Both of the songs have instruments that are classic and essential to that genre, and her knowledge of that fact shows in her overall presentation.
Presumably, her most interesting song is “Darlin Ukulele” because of the vibraphone and ukulele intro that adds a more world music experience to the album. Her storytelling is also very strong in this song with lyrics like “dreaming by the ocean walking by the sea, talking to a starfish and the mermaid sing to me” that create vivid paintings in your head to transport you inside the story. “Do You” and “Mad Tom of Bedlam” are perfect examples of how real and not overly produced the recording process is and show an extreme range of musicianship that she possesses. The latter is almost completely vocally driven with all non-tonal instruments.
“Faded Coat of Blue” starts with a horn and string part that play off of one another and adds another side of her that we haven’t seen in the album. This song and “Poor Girl Blues” bring her storytelling to life with a stronger folk-inspired sound. The fiddle solo at the end of the song was a nice touch. The last few songs on the album like “Sascha” and “Tiny Idyll Lil Miss” stayed strong to her blues and jazz roots with a hint of folk-like melodies that keep her album so interesting. “Tiny Idyll Lil Miss” adds another element of change with an acapella intro. “Old Fashioned Morphine” has a nice upright bass opening that reminded me of a lot of jazz standards from the ’50s and ’60s. There’s almost a sensual kind of feel to her sound that feels effortless. This style fits so well into this album and this became another favorite for me.
Holland’s album is a mix of funk and soul, with tones of serious storytelling that makes for a well-rounded listen. She is able to pull different ideas from the genres that she is influenced by and weave them together for a seamless album.