Few singers embody the breadth of American music in the manner of Jolie Holland. Her approach reflects not just the influences of rock, gospel, jazz, country, blues, soul, Tin Pan Alley, and turn-of-the-20th-century parlor songs, but their very essences. Holland's lithe voice is a remarkable instrument, intoning poignantly like a cross between Maria Muldaur and a young Aretha Franklin, with touches of jazz singer Mildred Bailey and blues goddess Memphis Minnie. She can make with a stray-cat yowl and coo like a film noir nightclub thrush, all with feline grace and often within the same song. "Waiting for the Sun" and "The Love You Save" find Holland channeling — not imitating or emulating — mid-Sixties Memphis R&B (think Stax Records' glory years), oozing soulfulness that's in the classic tradition yet totally her own. "Saint Dymphna" is a Cajun-flavored waltz rich with Southern gothic drama and seasoned with electric guitars that clang with Sonic Youth's pre-Geffen-era distortion, and one could easily imagine Louis Armstrong playing and singing the lilting New Orleans strut that is "Route 30." Holland's instrumental palette recalls that of fellow traveler Tom Waits: Guitars shimmer, sigh, and grind with moody restraint; a violin saws a bleak tango; wind instruments wail and bray; and tempos stagger with the morose abandon of lonely guys tumbling out of a tavern at closing time.
In terms of evocations of the American experience, Holland is in the same league as Waits, Rickie Lee Jones, Randy Newman, and Bonnie Prince Billy. (Anti-)