Album: Jolie Holland

Catalpa, Anti-

Jolie Holland, former founding member of the alt.folk group The Be Good Tanyas, came to roots music by an unusual route, beginning by performing Syd Barrett songs as folk tunes around her hometown of Houston. Some of Syd's quirky, haunting quality rubbed off, judging by this solo debut. She describes her work as "new time old time - spooky American fairy tales", a description entirely borne out by the opening track of Catalpa, "Alley Flowers", where the distant, industrial thud of a Mexican drum combines with her gentle guitar arpeggios and yearning country vocal. It's a similar combination of elements to those employed by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous: the same access to antiquity, the same simplicity lent depth by surface patination, and the same mythopoeic power accorded to living things - in this case a plant, possibly the catalpa tree of the album's title. "Some people say you got a psychedelic presence," she sings, "shinin' in the park with a bioluminescence." Roughly recorded, prizing spontaneity and spirit over technique and clarity - there's even a cough - Catalpa features songs about loneliness and little birds, lost romantic opportunities and ghosts, set to sparse arrangements of guitar, muted banjo, harmonica and percussion, with discreet touches of electric guitar, musical saw or whistling as decoration. Recommended.