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Jolie Holland 

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  • Jolie Holland

In 2004, Rolling Stone—Cleo-like clairvoyants capable of charting the topography of music’s future, for sure—ranked Jolie Holland in a class of four female singer-songwriters capable of coveting “The Next Norah” crown. The music of California-via-Texas’ Holland has never been easy to classify, but Rolling Stone couldn’t have missed the point more in pinpointing Holland as an ascendant female star in Jones’ shadow. They might as well have stipulated the class was only for younger women refusing to pursue 21st-century pop orthodoxy and signed to high-profile record labels.

Holland doesn’t match your mother’s adoration of piano balladry, and she never will: While Jones channels crafty Love Songs After Dark in her own nuevo-cool, Holland, a former Be-Good Tanya, has uneasily yet invitingly given notice of her own goof and gaffe across three solo albums, exposing her misgivings and aspirations with uncanny imagery: “I used to be an angel/ Now I’m just like everybody else: I used to be an angel” she sings on 2004’s Escondida, one album after she cooed “Some people say I got a psychedelic presence/ Shining in the dark with a bioluminescence.” Her voice is a quivering alto, shape-shifting and bending melodies to suit her needs, the sound of someone who first started to hum but decided to sing instead. Top 40 has never been further from being ready.

Then again, Holland has been alternately typecast as a different strain of the New Weird America, an auxiliary member of the proclaimed freak-folk flow, a sometimes-San Francisco movement most often associated with Devendra Banhart. But—apart from being young, American and self-consciously different—Holland seems to be of something else altogether, pulling from different (and perhaps more mainline) traditions.

That’s the conundrum in full: Holland doesn’t belong in either class, and her music is better for it. With her latest, Springtime Can Kill You, Holland follows an Antony-like whispery piano song (“Ghostly Girl”) with a sun-baked country shuffle (“Nothing to Do but Dream”).

She’s in her own class, tweaking America-old forms to enunciate archetypes in her own playful vernacular. Holland’s music—a voice infamously associated with adulation or alienation, singing lyrics too vague or too referential for the impatient—likely won’t make her famous, but her rangy sense of songcraft—she can move from more beckoning Tom Waits, stream-of-thought shuffles to gorgeous, askew ballads in the matter of a track, all the while putting the song and not the shtick first—won’t ever make her weird enough for some. And that’s just about right.

Jolie Holland plays The Pour House in Raleigh on Tuesday, July 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

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