Go back to a time of apple wine, clapboard shacks and half-empty cartons of cigarettes, dusty skirts from rambling roads and porch-sitting, with the sounds of creaking boards and crickets on the air. Under a tree with an open palm you’ll find Jolie Holland, singing of your troubles to keep hers away. This is her world—the one far beyond her tangible southern roots—and on her third full-legnth she welcomes us back with an open arm and a jug of moonshine hugged tight with the other.
She’s Patsy Cline without the fringe, Billie Holiday minus Tin Pan Alley, and Feist without the Prozac. In Springtime, she’s immersed in her realm once again, though she’s traded in the “Morphine” and creepy, hillbilly-chic of Escondida for a sound that’s a hint more melodic and just a touch less disturbed. Her screeching fiddle fades out, replaced by the delicate strums of campfires and beach blankets (“Adieu False Heart,” “Stubborn Beast”) and the piano-heavy smokiness of rustic bar tunes and warm liquor (“Mexican Blue,” “Mehitibell’s Blues,” the title track). This is still Jolie’s place, but the hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth makes it that much more welcoming.
Lesley Bargar - Filter Magazine
The test of an artist's true bearing is often found in their second album, the notion being that there's been a lifetime leading up to the debut, and then just a year or two for its successor. Jolie Holland has risen to the occasion with aplomb. Writing specifically for this release as well as for a band for the first time, there's a resonant bearing to the set as a whole. A dreamy quality pervades the set. As the instrumentation subtly varies from track to track, it further underscores the changing settings of a mind running wild while the body sleeps. Holland also addresses the idea overtly on the song "Nothing Left to Do But Dream." The gentle narrative offers surprises, such as the jarring, "I took my sister to the river and I came back alone." Small combo arrangements throughout serve to empower the lyrics--cliché-free and full of emotional breadth.
David Greenberger – Amazon.com
Jolie Holland's sophomore studio outing for Anti is a leap from her landmark Escondida. While that album traveled seamlessly from genre to genre without trying, Springtime Can Kill You moves at a slower, more labyrinthine pace toward an end that only Holland could conjure. There are many artists these days stepping deep into the rich tradition of American roots music, whether it's country, blues, folk, or gospel. To her credit, Holland is looking for something even more mercurial in her songwriting and cover performances: the American parlor -- or living room in the era before television when the radio was its centerpiece: it was the terrain where many voices, experiences, and stories from near or ghostly far came to life. Here,she articulates them in the present, often in the first person, as musical languages and as well-worn fables from life's margins. Holland's voice, always so original, sounds like it comes from some other bygone era, yet utters itself in contemporary terms; it is the anchor on which all this beautiful eventide music turns. It can be weary, tired, shy, and sly; it can be deeply divided and ambivalent; it can be sexually charged with the notion of conquest and discovery, and in its sultry, suggestive drawl it reveals even as it conceals; it's ready for the next lover's embrace or the challenge of finding it. Still at other times, it's full of grief, or intimate regret, or wide-eyed wonder and innocence at what reveals itself in the moment. It's a voice where there is no grain, only a rounded disclosure that carries within it all the moments the words were born from.
Whether she's writing original material or covering traditional tunes -- on this set she does a gorgeous reading of "Adieu False Heart" -- the effect is the same. It's intimate, like a secret told readily. And to further embolden herself, she's recorded portions of the disc in front of a small audience, and cut most of the music live from the floor. She engages country music, jazz, skeletal rock, swing, and '30s style pop in her original compositions as well as on a pair of stunning covers: poet and songwriter C.R. Avery's "Crazy Dreams" and Riley Puckett's classic "You're Never Satisfied." Other tracks offer stylistic or inspirational nods where they're due, such as on the country blues tune "Moonshiner," where she offers props to Freakwater and Memphis Minnie. Leisurely guitars, piano, horns, percussion, bass, and very subtle electronic flourishes illustrate Holland's sung words; their irony, their desire, their sadness and regret, and their slightly crazy, visionary illuminations. A listen to the opener, "Crush in the Ghetto," reveals a love song that looks at squalid surroundings as they've undergone a transformation through loopy joy and the skewed perception of the protagonist who is quietly, yet ecstatically wrecked by love: "It's a beautiful morning in the ghetto/Finer than the day before/The ants are crawling over my pants as if to say/they know where the honey is..." The heart of everyday life is illustrated in images of children crying on buses, high growing weeds that bear witness to "birds of paradise" in gentle singsong style that is illuminated by a shimmering B3, French horn, bells, guitars, and more. The title track is a slippery, rhythmically complex jazz tune. The drums swing, all cymbals and sheen, against the vocal. A human whistle sounds gaily from the margin. Holland refuses depression's darkness in her vocal as a four-note piano vamp in between refrain and verse, gives her fuel: "Don't you see we're all hurt the same way? So get out, get out of your house....If you don't go get what you need/Something's going to break on the inside..." A baritone horn plays an interlude in unison with that whistle to underscore this small but revelatory truth. "Stubborn Beast," is a skeletal songwriter's manifesto, set to a country waltz with Keith Carey's lap steel and a brushed drum kit lifting the guitars and vocals; it's a confessional shoulder shrug. "Ghostly Girl" is a country song from the other side of closing time, sung by the performer in the mirror in a cheap hotel. It's sad, wistful, and resigned. "Mexican Blue," another love song, closes the set. Holland's poetic lyric embraces everything in images -- "I saw you riding on your bike/In a corduroy jacket in the night/Past the hydrangeas blooming in the alley...When I lay beside you in the sleepless night/And when you dreamed my guardian spirits appeared..." -- a tiny glockenspiel enters, and underscores the wonder and gratitude in the verse. Electric guitars come razor-like and wind their way in; Holland's voice greets them mid-swell near the end: "I'll remember all the dreams and mysteries/You have born in your crystalline soul/That you sing from your golden throat/That you shine from your sparkling eyes/That you feel from the goddess in your thighs/You're like a saint's song to me..." And after its final words, it just ends. Springtime Can Kill You holds all of its stories, emotions and contradictions, like a multi-colored, roughly stitched quilt, made from well-worn blankets, shirts, and pants. It offers comfort, strength, and warmth, collecting all the stories that came and went, leaving something of themselves behind .
Thom Jurek - All Music Guide
ZERO MAG If Fiona Apple were a country singer, she'd sound a bit like Jolie Holland. But Ms. Holland is not a country singer — that's simply one of her many modes — and just as often she summons the voices of Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday. Holland is rooted in the folk troubadour singer-songwriter tradition, but her music bleeds into blues, jazz, and soul. She's a lot younger than she sounds on Springtime Can Kill You, as she's got both the universal perspective and the sturdy countenance of a more mature musician. Her third full-length (all on Anti-) finds her continuing her sultry path through the history of American music. If anything, she's quieted down even more with this effort, playing less gospel and swing and more country, blues, and vocal jazz than on her previous releases. The album's title embodies its dark spirit, as do song names like "Crush in the Ghetto," "You're Not Satisfied," and "Nothing Left to Do But Dream." The darkness of the past can shed light on the future, and nothing accomplishes this better than music. Nate Seltenrich
NPR Song Of The Day May 3, 2006 • Many of Jolie Holland's fatalistic, woozily paced songs come with a body count, but she rarely spares herself: She often sings about doomed lovers, and she ranks topmost among the damned. Roughly as cheerful as its title suggests, Springtime Can Kill You finds Holland falling prey to her own stubbornness, sullenness or drunkenness in song after song. The album's title track even locates the sad underbelly of a season ordinarily associated with rebirth and renewal. For every blooming rose and swooning lover, she notes, there's a sad wallflower done in by missed opportunities. "You don't have the time for the least hesitation," she sings, commanding, "Get out of your house." In its own way, however, "Springtime Can Kill You" comes as close as Holland gets to writing an inspirational anthem, as she uses herself as a cautionary example ("Springtime can kill you / just like it did poor me") for those who opt to stay indoors. Holland may be beyond salvation here, but not everyone is doomed to the same fate: "High on the moonshine, bodies entwine / Don't you see it's better this way?" The sentiment may be sad, but it says something for the season that it inspires Holland to find a ray of hope -- for everyone else, anyway.
WESTWORD---Jason Heller 5/4/06 Witches have their familiars. Jolie Holland has whole hosts of critters dwelling within the dipping fleurs-de-lis and Rococo ruffles of her music. Most of them are winged, but as Holland reminds us with the title of her third full-length, Springtime Can Kill You, airborne beasts such as ghosts, mockingbirds and memories are dangerous things to pin down. Of course, that doesn't stop her from netting the flightier denizens of her soul and locking them in twelve exquisite, gilded cages; the dozen songs of Springtime span anguish and transcendentally drunken sex as easily as the everyday epiphanies of bus rides and back-road drives. This time around, Holland has fattened her sparse folk jazz and malnourished waltzes with a flock of backup players (including songwriter David Dondero, who duets celestially with her on You're Not Satisfied) and crafted the most stunning, spellbinding work of her career. As for her voice, its haunting coo is still enough to call the birds from the trees -- or the ache out of hearts. NO DEPRESSION—May/June 2006 Kurt B. Reighley
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Music Genome Project, a huge undertaking wherin researchers are breaking millions of recordings down into their core components – timbres, tempos, rhythms, etc. – and cross-referencing all the information. Its most practical application allows an individual to enter an artist they like, then receive recommendations of other acts with overlapping sensibilities. If there is an album that could stump the MGP, Springtime Can Kill You, the third full-legnth from Bay Area singer-songwriter Jolie Holland, is surely it. Aside from Holland’s amber voice and lazy diction, there is breathtaking (in the best sense)disparity between the disc’s twelve selections. “Stubborn Beast” suggests the sort of cabaret songs from between the Great Wars once peddled by Lenya and Dietrich, while the country-tinged Moonshiner” is shot through with bittersweet slide guitar. The title track, despite its fatal implications, is a light and lively jazz tune, propelled by flittering cymbals, quick strums, and an air of barely suppressed agitation. What unifies the disc, besides that bewitching voice, is Holland’s commitment to small yet varied ensembles (including, but not limited to, piano, muted brass and accordion), and recurring lyrics about heartache. But the loose story of a protagonist who feels like the queen of mass transit (“Crush In The Ghetto”) one moment, and devastated the next (the chilling, bare-bones “Ghostly Girl”), constitutes only a fraction of the record’s mercurial appeal. What makes Springtime ultimately so gripping is the way Holland, her characters and her music refuse to be broken –or broken down – as easily as most contemporary recordings.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY A On her 2002 demo, Catalpa, and 2004’s Escondida, this wandering American singer-songwriter was an original in search of something she hadn’t quite found yet. Here she finds it. That exquisitely strange voice—part Billie Holiday, part tipsy gypsy in a Czech beer bar—becomes a garden of vinelike phrases and oozing vowels and birdlike whistles. And her band breathes along like a ventilator with brushed drums, pump organ, lap steel, and horns. Proof folk music shouldn’t just conjure the past, but also sit down and have a drink with it in the present.