Written By: Warren J. McCrickard
I now know what will be playing on repeat for the next few weeks as my wife and I drive, cook, read in our living room, and have guests over; yes, Jolie Holland’s new album “The Living And The Dead.” Jolie’s fourth album is her most complete to date. Blending Americana with folk, blues, rock and a hint of country twang, Jolie has created a perfect marriage of musical tastes for your palate.
The album kicks off with her first single “Mexico City” which includes the album’s title in the chorus. It resonates that feeling of starting fresh amongst past memories. This song is a great welcome to the journey that Jolie will carry her listeners on as she navigates through loss and suffering, joy and redemption.
“Corrido Por Buddy,” track 2, is a deeply personal ballad in the tradition of a Mexican corrido which starts with an introduction, tells a story, and ends with a moral. In her ballad, Jolie passes by a friend on the street that is unrecognizable due the addiction he is so heavily entrenched in. She continues to see apparitions of him in other towns which causes a deep sense of sadness and self crimination, the guilt of not being able to help.
Her songs continue to paint beautiful imagery. Whether it is a prayer for the heavy laden (“Palmyra”), a reflection on the mystery and complexity of life (“Your Big Hands”), or a sweet love song (“Sweet Loving Man”), Jolie and her smoky voice build a world in which the listener stands with the artist; exists within her world and shares her experiences.
One of the most touching songs is “The Future.” It is one of great misery; the unforgettable moments of an unwanted break-up and the cry for a return to those moments when the couple thought the future would be their future. What makes this song even better is the song that follows, “Enjoy Yourself.” With only two guitars and two voices, the song is sparse to say the least. It starts with Jolie laughing while she sings Enjoy yourself/it’s better than you think.
It is as if a she left the scene of the break-up and went directly to her best friend’s house. Upon arrival, the best friend did exactly what every best friend should do after a terribly defeating break-up; pick up a guitar and sing Enjoy yourself/it’s better than you think. Jolie can be heard laughing at the start of this song but because of its placement after “The Future,” the laughter is almost one of relief and gratitude at her friend’s ability to be present and encouraging in the bleakest of times. And this is how the album ends…with hope and laughter.
Jolie Holland is a treasure. Her music is a gift and no matter how deep and introspective the album can be at times, the listener never feels alone. If anything, he or she feels united. And in that unity, there is hope. The Living And The Dead is a great album of the complexities of being on a journey and all the emotions, good and bad, that come with it. As life is a continual journey, I am glad I have Jolie’s excellent penmanship and timeless voice to keep me company.