Jolie Holland & the Grand Chandeliers' Pint of Blood was reportedly loosely inspired by Neil Young's Zuma, "with nods to" the Velvets, Rolling Stones, and David Bowie. That may be true -- to a degree -- in sonics and production, but it's also pure Holland; it's in her keen lyric observations of the human heart -- the equanimity with which it practices perseverance, endurance, love, betrayal, deception, acceptance, and experiences joy -- and the organic, idiosyncratic manner in which she approaches melody and songcraft. Co-produced by Holland and Shazad Ismaily; the Grand Chandeliers are Ismaily and guitarist Grey Gersten, with honorary member Marc Ribot. This set was recorded in various small studios, but feels "live." The Young inspiration is apparent on the set's heartbreaking opening track, "All Those Girls," in the the country shuffle at its heart, and the distorted lead guitar break. Holland channels the wide-open emotion of Lucinda Williams in her vocal delivery, but it feels more like an homage than mere emulation. "Remember" is a crackling, limber rocker with the provocative lyric for a love song: "It brings a smile to my lips/When I think of your fist/Narrowing in on & cracking his ribs." "Gold and Yellow," with its strolling country-rock pulse, is the album's true centerpiece. Hers and Gersten's electric guitars engage one another, finding mini bridges in dynamic shifts and shrouded harmonies even in the verses. Ismaily's bass and drums keep it almost in the pocket, though the rhythm's just loose enough to classify as a barroom shuffle. "June" is a sexy love song that ends with the words, "I'm imagining tall mountains out of clouds/And dreaming on your honeysuckle mouth." "Wreckage," with its fingerpopping, warm electric guitars and acoustic strummed ones, embraces early vocal group rock & roll; it evokes Doc Pomus via his spiritual son, Lou Reed. "Little Birds" marries early rock & roll to West African highlife. "The Devil's Sake" is a brooding, loosely metered country-blues waltz, with searing lyrics like "Only your bones can tell my hands that you're right...". It features Ribot in his lone guest appearance, on National steel guitars and National ukuleles playing slide. The album closes with a gospelized, ghostly reading of Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues." Holland's vocal is backed by her upright piano and violin and Ismaily's bass. It's haunting, beautiful, and echoes long after the record is over. Pint of Blood is a portrait of Holland embracing rock & roll as another of her roots music inspirations. Yet her ambition is grounded in her organic approach to sound, the spontaneity of performance, and the growing artfulness in her songwriting. She's never been more as completely herself on record as she is here.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek