Jolie Holland is never going to win over the skeptics who question her intentions in Americana music. She was born and raised in Texas, but she has spent the past 10 years in California (that's ``Caliphony," if you're one of said skeptics). Her Southern drawl, through which the word ``easily" is rendered ``aze-ily," comes out of nowhere and can be distracting, even grating. And she utters ``dude" and ``awesome" a little too often for the purists.
But that's their problem. What Holland lacks in conventional pedigree, she more than makes up for with the right spirit, talent to spare, and an obvious devotion to her craft.
There's very little middle ground when it comes to Holland, as audience reaction proved at the Museum of Fine Arts Wednesday night. For every song that drew wild applause, at least 10 to 15 people would exit before the next one began (and this was a show that sold out weeks ago). Love her or leave her, though it's much easier to do the former.
Maybe part of the problem is that Holland is more challenging and less stylized than her albums suggest. If you expect ready-made Norah Jones tunes, what you get live is grittier and looser (a less tightly wound Neko Case , if you will). Holland sets her own parameters: She sings with a lot of gall, dares to waver in and out of pitch, and fidgets with her tempo and rhythm -- all because she knows she'll pull it off and the audience will admire her more for it.
She sang mostly songs from ``Springtime Can Kill You," her latest, and easily best, album. Moving over to the piano for `` Mehitabel's Blues ," Holland was just as fluid and comfortable as she had been on guitar and violin. Her drummer and guitarist quietly receded into the background, but in a good way. She dedicated ``Mexican Blue " to Samantha Parton , her former cohort in Holland's previous band, the Be Good Tanyas . ``Ghostly Girl ," with Holland's voice trailing off into a cracked whisper set against the occasional scrape across the cymbals, came thrillingly close to being a discordant art song.
Chalk it up to the MFA's curfew, but the house lights came on jarringly quick ly as Holland soaked up the applause. She looked like she wanted to do an encore; too bad her microphone had already been turned off and music was blaring through the sound system.
Ollabelle , an Americana band from Brooklyn, could have used some of Holland's grit in its opening slot. All superb musicians, the sextet deftly dusted off chestnuts such as ``Down by the Riverside " during a set of polished roots music that goes down nicely with a