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November 5, 2008

Holland's opus

Jolie Holland stumbled into her musical vocation at a young age. Though never formally trained, as a toddler she always gravitated toward the toy piano. Historical perspective came later, when the teenage Holland began exploring both past and future realms of folk music.

“I don’t like the term ‘folk music’ though,” Holland says. “It is something that often gets tagged onto the work of actual kick-ass composers who had the misfortune of writing during a racist time, and so they had the credit for their music essentially stolen from them.”

In her 20s, this fiery songsmith helped start the Be Good Tanyas, a popular old-school country ensemble comprised of like-minded female musicians. The group is still active but, early on, Holland opted to go it alone.

Since the 2003 release of Catalpa, Holland has quietly established herself as a formidable genre-jumper. Known to dabble in country, blues, jazz and rock, Holland remains an enigmatic artist.

“The easiest way to describe it to someone who’s never heard my music is to tell them it is in the rock section with everything else,” Holland jokes.


Whatever you want to call it, her sexy-smart lyrics and the veritable palette of sound that was incorporated into each of her four solo albums have earned Holland an eclectic fan base (that includes Tom Waits).

Holland’s latest (and most accessible) disc, The Living & the Dead, is replete with transcendental themes and literary allusions. In songs like “Mexico City,” Holland seems to have a real affinity for the Beat poets, but it turns out their collective effect on her personal outlook and song-craft is mixed.

“Kerouac wrote a couple of songs that I think are really awesome, but overall I’m not a huge fan of his work,” Holland reflects. “In fact, his stuff doesn’t deeply affect me at all. It’s funny; I think Kerouac has probably had more of a negative influence on me. I mean, he is obviously a celebrated cultural figure with a certain magnetism about him. But for a number of years, he was a deadbeat father who just drank himself to death in front of the TV. His story is interesting but incredibly dis-inspiring (sic).”

Suffice to say Holland counts herself among the living. Jolie Holland and Herman Dune will perform at the 930 Listening Room Saturday night at 8 p.m. (Doors open at 7). The concert is all-ages, with general admission seating.

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, and are on sale at ear X-tacy and www.the930.org.