written by Chris Familton
Jolie Holland returns with her fourth studio album and this time she has made a discernible effort to reduce her jazz and folk flavoured americana to simpler structures and cleaner palettes. In many cases the songs benefit from these amendments but they also lose some of what made Holland such an interesting proposition in the first place.
Pint of Blood opens with the Lucinda Williams sounding All Those Girls. Holland bends and chews the notes in her inimitable manner over some stately drums and faintly Neil Young ragged guitar. It’s a nice way to start the record as it instils a sense of calm and signals that we may be in for a more contented Holland on this album. Remember continues the theme, heading into Jenny Lewis territory before Tender Mirror delivers one of the most satisfying moments on the record. Holland is accompanied by little more than piano and some shuffling percussion and a shadowy organ courtesy of co-producer Shahzad Ismaily. It allows her voice to carry the song and highlights turns of phrase such as “I’m not in love with a stranger anymore, I slipped out of the spell, you can go to hell if that’s what you’re headed for’. Lines like these characterise Holland’s bittersweet approach to songwriting. She creates vignettes around the themes of love and loss and taints them with ‘heart laid bare’ honesty.
Holland also shows she can create emotional weight in her playing as effectively as with her voice. The Jecusco box fiddle on June pulls intensely on the heartstrings while throughout her guitar playing is warmly primitive while serving the songs wonderfully. That rawness extends to handclaps on Wreckage and the confidence to allow all manner of stringed instruments their own space in the songs to accentuate Holland’s melodies and phrasings rather than just filling the gaps. Indeed when things do get busier on Little Birds the song suffers through the tumbling overflow of lyrics and likewise with the over-cooked instrumentation.
Marc Ribot makes an appearance on The Devil’s Sake, adding national steel guitar and national steel ukelele with magnificent restraint. The notes are barely there, hanging in the air like ghostly afterthoughts. The depth added by Ribot is essential to the greatness of the song, casting it in a comparable light to some of Tim Buckley’s more tender jazz folk explorations. Holland rounds out Pint of Blood with a version of Townes Van Zandt’s Rex’s Blues, a tender ode to indulgence and getting the most out of life regardless of the end result. She drags the song from its folk origins into an intimate and bluesy jazz setting, adding violin and some emotionally laden piano chords. It suceeds by communicating the sadness of the song via the music as strongly as the brilliant poetry of Van Zandt.
Pint of Blood is a rewarding refinement of Holland’s sound that doesn’t always succeed but for the most part makes for a surprisingly intimate listen. On Sunday mornings and late nights is where the album will find its mark for the blood spilt here is mainly from the heart rather than the result of any physical violence.
this review was first published on FasterLouder