Over the span of her career, Jolie Holland has knotted together a century of American song—jazz, blues, soul, rock and roll—into some stew that is impossible to categorize with any conventional critical terminology. She dives straight to the pathos of a song the way the very greatest singers, singers like Mavis Staples, or Al Green, or Skip James or Tom Waits do. Upon first encounter, her songs seem challenging, perhaps unsettling at times, but as so many poets and rockers have shown us—from Dante Alighieri to William Blake to Sylvia Plath to Patti Smith to Nick Cave to Mark E. Smith—that’s where the beauty lies. As evident on her first recordings, Holland apparently has no fear of the truth, and there is no emotional core that she cannot reach in song. In fact, she thrives on the red hot center of a musical composition, in all its strange and brutal detail.
Astute listeners to Holland’s work can recognize how her writing over the years has deepened, matured, become the songwriting of a wise, worldly adult, not just of a rambler across the American latitudes, but to understand this is still no preparation for the sonic assault, the unprecedented confidence and merciless brilliance of Wine Dark Sea, her new CD, which yokes the New York underground to American song in a way that has rarely been attempted since White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground.
There has been no album of the recent decade with quite this sonic ambition, with quite this command of what a rock and roll song is and ought to be, but Wine Dark Sea is all of that, with a little bit of Homer and Maya Deren mixed in too. Wine Dark Sea is the album of a lifetime, with a lifetime of work in it.
Ticket Prices: Adults: $28 (includes admission to the grounds) / Wave Hill Members 10% discount / $12 children ages 8-18, unless otherwise noted. Order tickets online or onsite at the Perkins Visitor Center. For additional information, please call 718.549.3200 x251.
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez