Ollabelle - self-titled



First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2004, Volume 11, #8

Written by John Metzger


On Ollabelleís self-titled debut, itís nearly impossible to tell the traditional tunes from the original compositions. The former are beautifully contemporized while the latter dig deep into the past for inspiration, and much like last yearís outing from Poí Girl, the collective draws together two disparate eras of music through its powerfully potent performances. Even a cover of the Rolling Stonesí I Am Waiting fits seamlessly amidst the rest of the material while gaining a new lexicon within the confines of its spiritual surroundings. Indeed, the New York City-based ensemble ó which was named after country singer Ola Belle Reed, whose lengthy, but far from complete career was cut short by a debilitating stroke in the late í80s ó delivers its fusion of gospel, blues, and folk with a radiantly soulful air that is truly mesmerizing.

As the story goes, Ollabelle was signed to T-Bone Burnettís DMZ imprint a mere five days after the O Brother, Where Art Thou? mastermind received a prospective copy of the groupís album. His rapid response isnít all that surprising, however, once one hears how precisely producer Steve Rosenthal mirrors Burnettís strange locution by allowing the music to slip into a paradoxical space that feels symphonic, despite its frequently sparse, atmospheric overtures. For example, on a rousing cover of Before This Time, the entourage envelopes its chorus of vocals with only a drum, a tambourine, and the rhythmic clapping of hands, but the result is something rich, full, and vibrant. Elsewhere, Ollabelle imbues Jesus on the Mainline with a Neville Brothers-like charm; chugs through a spooky version of John the Revelator; fits Canít Nobody Do Me Like Jesus with a funky fury; unleashes a riveting rendition of No More My Lawd by thrashing it with a B.B. King-like electric guitar accompaniment; and splatters the sultry groove of Elijah Rock with swirling organ and squawking electric guitar worthy of the Grateful Dead. As for the cover of Blind Willie Johnsonís Soul of a Man ó which was resurrected last year by Wim Wenders for his chapter in Martin Scorseseís intriguing PBS mini-series about the blues ó the group gives the song yet another twist by wallowing in its earthy gospel roots.

At 14 tracks and nearly an hourís worth of music, thereís little doubt that Ollabelle is an overly lengthy affair, one that should have undergone a slight bit of editing, perhaps, to remove the preciousness that creeps into the set through The Storms Are on the Ocean, Two Steps, and, to a lesser degree, All Is Well.  Yet, even here, the group manages to achieve a quietly alluring gracefulness thatís captivating, organic, and magical, meaning none of the extra padding comes close to undermining the impeccability of the collectiveís otherwise intoxicating debut. starstarstarstar

Ollabelle is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2004 The Music Box