catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 18 :: 2006.10.06 — 2006.10.20


Addicted to love

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s easier said than done when it comes to matters of the heart, but Jolie Holland will be the first to tell you that it’s the right thing to do. You might get hurt. You might get scarred. And you almost certainly won’t have fun. But then, what can you really do about it? Love’s an addiction, and joining a convent is about the only way to break it.

That’s one of the threads that run through Holland’s latest collection of woozy and wounded love songs, Springtime Can Kill You. “Don’t you see we’re all hurt the same way?” she asks on the title cut, and indeed, we all know the terrible burn that love can bring. But there’s no use whining about it, she says—we’re relational creatures by our very nature, and the only thing that makes any sense is to “get out of your house” and risk everything on a long shot. Springtime is a whiskey-sour batch of midnight folk songs, set somewhere on the terrain between love and lust, loneliness and longing, and each character brings a sweet and awful testimony of reaching into the fire and, more often than not, pulling back a burned hand.

Holland spins her yarns using the traditional sounds of American music—instruments and genres that sound like they were designed specifically for telling bittersweet stories like these. But she’s not just hopping onto the bandwagon of artists incorporating American roots music into their decidedly modern sound—Holland plays these songs as if the last eighty years simply never happened. And it’s not simply revivalism, either—there’s no self-conscious attempt to find her place among the giants that came before her. Holland and her band simply play the music that they love, and the result is both timeless and vibrant, alive with passion and zeal. There’s a lot of love on this record, in more ways than one. Listening to these punchdrunk concoctions of country, jazz, and folk doesn’t feel like going back in time so much as having the ghosts of ages past show up at your door and ask to step inside for a cup of coffee.

As our humble tour guide, Holland is a triple threat—she dazzles as a singer, a songwriter, and a record maker. She’s a bit of a mush-mouth, swallowing her consonants and stretching her vowels to almost unrecognizable lengths, but she’s always in control, and her performance here is remarkable, ranging from sultry and sexy to dejected and heartbroken. Holland also practices the mostly-forgotten art of making actual albums—there’s a thematic cohesion and fluid momentum to this set that demands it be listened to in its entirety and in the order in which it’s presented, and recurring images tie these songs together—changing seasons, crazy dreams, and moonshine become metaphors for love and lust and the perils of romance.

In the opening song, “Crush in the Ghetto,” the singer has stars in her eyes and butterflies in her stomach as she sings of love’s power to turn squalor into splendor; this song’s companion piece is the closing song, “Mexican Blue,” a surreal, epic lover’s hymn that has to be heard to be believed. These songs are feverish declarations of infatuation, but between them we hear testimonies of love in all of its complexity: with its slippery rhythms and jazzy swagger, the title cut bears witness to the human need for relationship, even in the face of pain; the hazy, punchdrunk pop of “Crazy Dreams” and the sour Dixieland funeral dirge of “You’re Not Satisfied” find beauty in brokenness and heartache; and “Please Don’t” is a confessional of disorienting intimacy. Meanwhile, “Stubborn Beast” is a steel-tinged country number in which the singer pleads with a lover to save her from herself, and “Moonshiner” is the sexiest, sultriest strut you’ll hear this side of an Over the Rhine recording, so hot with desire that it’ll raise the temperature in the room at least a few degrees.

These songs are so intimate that they feel almost like internal dialogues, but their emotional weight is a punch to the gut—it’s sour, somber material, but the recordings themselves are so graceful and sincere that the album goes down smooth, like a good wine. This is nighttime music, made to be listened to by candlelight, perhaps with a cold libation in hand. It’s a reminder that love is fraught with peril, but there’s grace and beauty to be found even in the darkest times.

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