Ollabelle

Ollabelle

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New York sextet Ollabelle's music is a hybrid of indigenous American styles, mixing folk, blues, and gospel, and drawing upon traditional sources to create something that sounds wholly new. If one is tempted to say "you've never heard anything quite like this before," it isn't because the ingredients are unfamiliar, it's because the mixture and the approach are. The alternating male and female vocalists usually sing traditional material, with arrangements that recall the kind of updated authenticity of Ry Cooder as much as the original sources. Somehow, these performances steer in between the alternating obstacles of sounding too retro on the one hand or taking an ironic posture on the other. The performers seem utterly immersed in the music, utterly sincere in their singing (though it would be surprising to find that their commitment to the religious lyrics was anything but figurative), yet they clearly are reaching back to their archaic sources through the context of contemporary music. Their few originals are of a piece with the traditional material, and even a revival of the Rolling Stones' "I Am Waiting" fits right in. It's no surprise that T-Bone Burnett's DMZ label is issuing this debut, since Burnett has demonstrated his affinity for American roots music and ability to recontextualize it for the 21st century. And it is appropriate that the Band's Levon Helm, doubtless the father of the group's Amy Helm, drums on "Soul of a Man." Ollabelle is trying to create a new sound out of long-standing folk-based musical styles in much the same way that the Band did with Music From Big Pink in 1968. The wonder is how well the group succeeds. Ollabelle is a moving collection of performances that will remind the listener of the emotional depth and scope of American music. If there is any disc capable of turning the term "Americana" into a full-fledged musical genre, this is it.

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