Escondida is the actual studio debut by Texas-born singer/songwriter Jolie Holland. While critics and music fans alike lauded Catalpa as her "first" album, it was never actually intended for release. Anti issued it after the volume of reviews reached fever pitch and Holland could no longer keep up with requests for it. As such, Escondida is a very different recording. Not as drenched in Gothic southern images and architectures, Escondida offers an even more evocative portrait of Holland as an American traditionalist who uses history as the framework for her new direction; she is not an Americana songwriter. One need go no further than "Sascha," the opener, for evidence. In beautiful early swing vernacular, complete with self-played Piedmont style guitaristry, Dave Mihaly's whispering snare brushes, and Ara Anderson's trumpet loping languidly in the background, Holland offers a love song as humid as a summer night full of stars and quiet front porches. It's startling because it is at once so classic and yet so wonderfully foreign. Her voice evoking Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith without imitating either, and her words coming from the heart of her own 21st century. Contrast this with "Black Stars," which follows it. Featuring only guitars and cymbals, it's closer in feel to the material on Catalpa, yet Holland's voice comes from the land of the ghosts; where the spirits of jazz singers and blues singers jointly crooned in the streets of Old New Orleans. Likewise, Ma Rainey might have sung the blues line in "Old Fashion Morphine" if she and Tampa Red had been accompanied by Sidney Bechet and Kid Ory in a late-night swing session. Gospel, folk, hints of early country music, and swing lie down together and kiss, languidly caressing one another in this blend of organic, sultry, sexy American blues. With her eclectic band -- which includes banjo boss Enzo Garcia on musical saw -- and lyrics that are both full of irony, pathos, and sly humor, Holland offers listeners a loosely constructed yet deeply moving tour through her mystical and esthetic archetypes -- the popping vocal and drum jive tune that is "Mad Tom of Bedlam"; the deep, bottom-land acoustic blues of "Poor Girl," that touches Blind Willie McTell, the Mississippi Sheiks, and Rosetta Tharpe; the Civil War melody that lies at the heart of "Faded Coat of Blue" -- and rewards them with a listening experience that is singular, startling, and soulful.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek