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July 18, 2006

Jolie Holland: curious, delightful and rewarding

The Simple 5 Series is striking again on Saturday with perhaps its best bargain yet. Jolie Holland returns to town in the wake of a fabulous new release. Dig. Jolie HollandSpringtime Can Kill You is a gem, sepia-toned and finely balanced in spirit. “Crush in the Ghetto” is an amazing opener — like many of the songs here, it’s over too soon. (It’s probably not a coincidence, seeing how most crushes also end too soon.)The title track might be the showiest piece here, with a teetering rhythm that verges on jazz. It follows tricky philosophical twists that are put over not by doctrine or pronouncement but by low-key sensuous observance (though Holland seems serious about the death warnings — mortality definitely makes its presence known in her music). A few spins through the whole 12 tracks eventually help a listener sort out eccentricities and regular lyrical motifs. Nothing blares in obvious redundancy; this isn’t riff city. Fortunately, it’s not shoegazing, either. Holland’s voice has more character than proficiency — but that’s just a comparison; she’s got more than enough of both. Her near-yodel swoops are just one contribution to an old-timey feel throughout the new record — but don’t think of this as simply more Americana. Not with the stop-start horns, or the smart switch-offs between guitar and piano, or the unlikely choices of harmonies. The recordings retain noises — drum clatter, some fuzzy tones that may or may not be feedback. Just between that fact and the shambling style of some of Holland’s opuses, it’s no surprise that Tom Waits is a big admirer. Maybe it’s logical to trace the genetic footprints here: a gorgeous young woman organically steeped in Texas singer-songwriter openness who records in San Francisco — the cultural spot where noir mixes with poetic high art.Don’t worry, though: It might be a bit on the artsy side in how Holland’s songs make demands that the listener sit still, but the rewards on this record go on and on. The two long tracks near the end offer equal parts delight and curiosity (and for “Nothing to Do but Dream,” a bit of queasiness might swirl in over what happened at the river).Holland is a multi-instrumentalist who plays with economy, despite having a wealth of ideas and a lot of talented friends in the studio. Is she just afraid to stay with one thing too long? Maybe that’s something else that should’ve been deduced from her past: she helped start the great Triple-A ensemble Be Good Tanyas, but was soon off on her own. If she’s going to be moving on from her current sound, though, by all means get to Headliners on Saturday and catch her now. Holland’s new album has good odds of making my year-end best list.There is a lot of hippy peacenik noise about music being an international language, but as silly as it may sound, this is often true. Sure, music can create violent arguments and divisions among people. No one likes to hear his favorite band insulted. But sometimes music really does draw people together.A group of three boys with varying family histories and backgrounds found that their shared love of breakdancing, hip hop and R&B was something they had in common, despite the differences in the countries and cultures from which they originate. Cuong Tran, originally from Saigon, Vietnam, says art was his first passion when he came to the United States, until he saw a break-dancer perform at his school, which inspired him to learn the unique dance style himself.Mawa Loule, who came here from Sudan, has been a music lover for most of his life, and is mostly interested in hip hop for its connections to R&B.Although the group members originate from different cultures, Tran points out that it has a unique common culture as well.“Hip hop, to me, is like a whole different culture, you know, what we live like and how we go by. It keeps us off the street. Keeps us out of trouble.”You can see the youngsters in action next Wednesday, July 26, at the Iroquois Library (more details, this page). —Anthony BowmanContact the writers at leobeat@leoweekly.com