Jolie Holland could hardly be recording for a more appropriately named label. While lumped by default into the country/folk singer-songwriter category, this Texas girl is intrinsically opposite to the rollicking country-pop you hear on commercial stations, emphatically against the slick folk-pop you hear on Adult Alternative public radio, and musically bereft of the flashy technique of Appalachian bluegrass bands.
Though she's obviously smart as a whip ... she once bragged during a World Café interview about being too advanced for her high school gifted classes ... Holland comes across as a depressive, down-on-her-luck type, squatting in a hobo shack on the edge of town, downing shot after shot and strumming her acoustic by the light of a single candle. Perhaps that's what attracted Tom Waits (who advocated her signing to Anti-) to her music, which hints at jazz and cabaret as much as its country roots.
Holland's basic modus operandi hasn't changed much since her first two releases ... the critically acclaimed Catalpa and Escondida. Her main textures still revolve around the shuffling percussion of Mike Mihaly and the gentle tremolo of guitarist Brian Miller. "Mexcian Blue" is dedicated to Samantha Parton, her former partner in alt-country band Be Good Tanyas, but tracks like "Stubborn Beast" ("my sullen songs have taken me / Far down this darkened road") and "Moonshiner" evoke the heartbroken melancholia treaded by similar No Depression faves Edith Frost, Freakwater, Carla Bozulich and Holland's own hero, Will Oldham.
What sets her apart from that admittedly talented pack is her distinct voice: Patsy Cline meets Norah Jones, with hints of Bjork's fairy-tale accent. A listener can easily fall under its ghostly, addictive spell, not unlike a good bottle of strong liquor and a dose of old-fashioned morphine. If springtime can't actually kill you, Ms. Holland's opus can make you weep like a little baby.