Ask around, and soon enough someone will tell you Jennyanykind should have been one of the Triangle's chief musical emissaries. Sure, the trio of brothers Mark and Mike Holland and Thomas Royal released six albums and an EP between 1993 and 2003 (including one on the major Elektra and two on a young Yep Roc), but their dynamic, shifty indie rock never reached Superchunk or Archers heights. Why cry over spilled milk, though, when the cream left in the jug tastes so sweet? Simple Truths and Pleasures is the third album Michael Holland has released since Jennyanykind disbanded and the second he's recorded with members of area bluegrass collective Big Fat Gap. It's Holland's most traditional disc yet, but it still feels vibrant and fresh, like an accomplished player and writer finally finding his way home. Rooted in North Carolina lore and homestead loneliness, it's a welcome arrival.
Apropos of its title, Simple Truths and Pleasures is full of characters looking for a little relief and maybe a little joy but never expecting too much. There's the "Ballad of Eric Rudolph," wherein the Atlanta Olympics bomber who hid in the North Carolina mountains for five years shares his version of truth with a relentless sheriff, a tough judge and a faceless jury. In "Starry Nights," Holland worries about love in the face of his own mortality as he stares at the stars, and the hot banjo lead of "Bring Back that Blue-Eyed Joy" twitters like the nervous vocalist, who wants to hold "something I can be sure of." And "Lesley Riddle," named for one of several country music patriarchs who called North Carolina home, looks at music as an emotional panacea, a cure no matter "how bleak my situation."
With 14 tracks, Truths starts to blur through its final third, though the concluding pair—led by the gentle guitar thump of "Dreams Beyond Compare" and capped by the banjo charms of the sweet "A Life of Ease"—lifts the loose ends. But Simple Truths and Pleasures isn't meant to be a neat record in a compact, 10-tracks-and-out form. Rather, Holland's ambition seems to have been to create an intimate, representative portrait of hill-old traditions in learned-and-thoughtful, young hands. If it takes 14 tracks to mix comfort and unease and to build a new myth for the Tar Heel State, so be it. On all of those counts, Holland—folklorist, chronicler, storyteller, conduit, songwriter—succeeds.
Michael Holland plays a CD release part for Simple Truths and Pleasures at Berkeley Cafe Saturday, Feb. 16, at 9 p.m. Owen Temple opens. Tickets are $8.