Two years ago, Ms. Holland sat in her bedroom with a couple of friends to demo up a couple of sophisticated folk tunes and make a CD she could sell from the edge of the stage at gigs. She called it Catalpa, and her fans quickly began burning copies and sending them to friends, who sent them to friends of friends. Before you could say "next big thing," the demo/album had traveled the globe and taken on a life of its own, generating rave reviews from CMJ, Salon.com, and dozens of overseas publications. Tom Waits and other heavies weighed in with words of praise, and Catalpa was scooped up by Anti for a proper release that preserved the album in all of its lo-fi, productionless charm.
The follow-up, Escandida, has better production values, but the qualities that made Catalpa so unique are still in effect. Holland's vocals retain their languid, just-got-out-of bed casualness; the arrangements are clever without calling attention to themselves; and although the tracks use marimba, musical saw, ukulele, sax, and drums, the band remains in the background as Holland's pliable drawl pulls you into her slightly skewed visions of the world. "Sascha" is a lazy swing tune with an understated trumpet solo and a melody that wanders around like the clueless lover she's singing about. "Darlin' Ukulele" -- a trio for marimba, uke, and musical saw -- sounds like a West African folk song from outer space. And though "Amen" has a gospel feel, the lyric is playful, secular, and subtly sexual, a perfect vehicle for Holland's breathy purr.
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