The House of Blues--Parish Room
August 18, 2004
Review written by Joseph Kees
Photo by Akim Aginsky
This wasn't a visually exciting rock show. It was a show designed for people solely interested in listening. Proof was in the first song, a wine-induced hallucination by Freak Water that was a bold choice considering its slower pace. Though she was a looker, Jolie Holland's music at the House of Blues Parish Room Wednesday night depended on more than visual effects. It relied on the subtlety of snare brushes, sheet metal taps, Holland's drawling Texan croon, her antique parlor acoustic finger-picking, and the inspiring Marc Ribot-esque, punchy guitar lead of Brian Miller. It didn't lend itself to the usual cacophony and disarray of a smoky bar room. The chatter in between songs wasn't overwhelming. However, I talked to Jolie after the show, and she was a little disappointed. She lamented that the crowd wasn't into it. Still, as she said that, I glanced over her shoulder and noticed several people with CDs and sharpies, anxiously waiting for autographs. Drummer Dave Mihaly wasn't surprised by the enthusiasm of the sharpie patrol.
"I knew we had them when everyone was singing
along to 'Goodbye California,'" Mihaly said. "California" opened with these lyrics: "I'm pre-meditating crime of the personal kind...I'm just about sick to death of taking breath and walking this line of mine." These lines didn't come off as part of a classic sing-along, but Holland made a suicide note sound strikingly uplifting.
A voice like Holland's comes along very rarely. I put her in a category alongside Billie Holiday. Think of Jolie's voice as Billie Holiday meets India in the desolation of a sleazy dive in China, Texas. Holland's voice was as beautiful as it was
haunting, evocative as it was original. Her songwriting ability was remarkable, a detail refreshing to associate with a talented singer.
For example, in the song "Damn Shame," she sung, "The smell of burnt exhaust drifts/into the bar/it's midnight in California/it's high noon where you are/motorcycles and booze/dirty old perfume/it's nothing but a goddamn shame."
Complementing Jolie's band on drums, Mihaly couldn't go unnoticed. On first glance his set had a certain makeshift quality. Mihaly, at
least 6'5, had alarming presence behind his drums, sporting a wild, crooked cowboy hat with a conspicuous white rose. Mihaly's drums alone
were interesting: dented cymbals, castanets, sheets of metal, a salvation-army tambourine that spun around the high hat on contact, and mangled brushes and bamboo sticks. His drums were so well mic'd that the mere tap of a wire brush could be heard at the bar. Mihaly detailed
Holland's gin-soaked waltzes and haunting blues numbers with precision. The elder of the Trio by 20 years, Mihaly's experience
can't be overstated. The third member, lead guitarist Brian Miller, provided wonderful accompaniment to Holland's plucking
acoustic tones. He elicited wild applause and
hollers from the audience several times over.
Holland closed the night with "Old-fashioned Morphine." It was a dark piece that evoked William S. Burroughs and apocalyptic landscapes. Despite uproarious applause after the song, the House of Blues turned on the house music and that was just enough to dissuade, or perhaps irritate, Jolie from
providing a much-needed encore. In fact, my only complaint was that Holland's set was a bit short at about 11 songs. By the looks of some
of her fans, they felt slightly shorted.
If you haven't listened to Jolie Holland, you're missing out on one of the great young artists writing and performing music in America.