Wine Dark Sea
3.5 out of 5 stars
Since the release of early albums like Catalpa and Escondida, Texas troubadour Jolie Holland has carved herself a unique niche as a modern artist with an ear for the old-fashioned. Like Andrew Bird — probably her closest stylistic contemporary — Holland finds fertile ground in the sounds of classic folk and pop songwriting, made more earnest or emotionally intense through her own honest lyrical take. It’s a bit surprising, then, to hear her sixth album, Wine Dark Sea, open with some raw and noisy guitars. In fact, opening track “On and On” isn’t alone in that regard; Wine Dark Sea contains some of the most robust and raw material Holland’s ever written, including the hand-clapping blues brawl of “Dark Days” or the darkly exotic rumble of “Out on the Wine Dark Sea.”
Yet, while it’s certainly fascinating to hear Holland take noisier cues from artists like labelmate Tom Waits, she’s still at her strongest when letting her songs breathe. One of the best tracks of the bunch is “First Sign of Spring,” in which Holland trades her fuzzbox for a piano, and her vocals sound less tweaked and tortured. It’s Holland at her most beautiful; that’s something worth savoring.