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Tag: jeanne jolly review

Jeanne Jolly Stuns the Crowd at Drom

North Carolina Americana singer/bandleader Jeanne Jolly liked Drom the minute she walked into the venue, she told the crowd there Friday night. She was onto something – it’s a very welcoming venue, something she knows about from her days waitressing in her home state. She’s come a long way since then; New York was a stop on the southbound stretch of her latest East Coast tour. There are plenty of singers with pretty voices, but Jolly is special. She can move from a gentle murmur to a gale-force wail in a split second and make it look easy; she has homegrown country charm but just as much urbane sophistication. Alongside her, eight-string guitarist Chris Boerner did the seemingly impossible task of playing nimble, climbing basslines on the low strings while jangling and sometimes burning his way through leads higher up the fretboard while drummer Nick Baglio also did double duty, playing piano and organ on a handful of tunes, sometimes one-handed, sometimes keeping time with just his feet.

Jolly’s songs reflect her eclectic background; much as she fits in with the Americana rock crowd, she’s both more oldschool and new, incorporating elements of jazz and Brazilian music as well as classic bluegrass and the occasional detour toward honkytonk. She opened with the swaying Long Way Home: when Jolly’s voice resisted an easy resolution and rose, wounded and full of angst as the verse turned around, it was a dead ringer for Mary Lee Kortes. That the set the stage for the rest of the evening. Boerner opened the second number, Angels on Hayworth Street, with an eerily starlit solo intro before the bluegrass beat kicked in.  It’s an escape anthem, Jolly’s voice channeling equal parts determination and dread.

Happy Days Cafe, inspired by her days waiting tables, set a mysterious, enigmatic, possibly ghostly narrative to pensive, fingerpicked guitar, rising to a jangly, clanging chorus. “We would have a lot of deep conversations,” she explained: her customers were a pretty entertaining bunch. She hit a big, fiery peak on the next song and then slowly made her way into the most spine-tingling number of the night, Round and Round Again. She started it as a gentle waltz, dedicated, she said, to her grandparents, who were married 65 years. “I remember when you swung me around,” Jolly sang, reaching to the rafters for high notes, but with a tenderness that suddenly went very sad and nostalgic: “That was a long time ago.” So when she hit the final chorus so hard she pulled back off the mic, the contrast was visceral.

An earlier song in the set explored more upbeat emotional turf, Boerner’s couple of solos echoing Jerry Garcia in “on” mode. Boerner took the energy up even further on an unselfconsciously imploring take of the highway rock anthem Hard Way while Jolly matched him, leaping and bending her notes with a raw intensity. Baglio also provided elegant piano intros on a couple of quieter numbers. Jolly wound up the set with a bossa-tinged tune, the more traditional, country-flavored Good Man and then went back to rock, belting out a long, sustained note for what seemed like ages while the band hit a big crescendo behind her…and then faked the crowd out with a trick ending.

Offstage, Jolly is exactly the same as she is on: disarmingly personable and full of stories. Raised on Motown and bluegrass, she went deep into jazz as a teenager…only to go off to New England Conservatory, where she studied opera. By the time she’d hit her mid-twenties, she was touring the world with a jazz outfit. All that experience factors into how much she defies convention, not to mention how subtly she wields that shattering voice. Jolly makes frequent stops here in town; watch this space for the next one.

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Jeanne Jolly: Eclectic Vocals, Intriguing Stories, Great Band

Raleigh, North Carolina country singer Jeanne Jolly’s latest album Angels has a lot of great tunes and great stories. Jolly is conservatory trained, with a jazz background: she had a money gig singing in a well-known pop-jazz band for awhile. In the last couple of years, she’s honed her chops on her home turf, embracing the country styles she grew up with there. Much as the album blends oldschool country with rock, it’s a million miles from New Nashville. Although Jolly’s voice can give you goosebumps, she saves the pyrotechnics for when she really wants to nail a lyric or drive a chorus home. Her songs usually follow a narrative: she’s got an eye for detail, likes to work the suspense for all it’s worth, and her band is sensational. She’s at the big room at the Rockwood on March 1 at 7 PM with eight-string guitarist Chris Boerner and drummer/keyboardist Nick Baglio.

Angels on Hayworth Street, the album’s opening track, sets the tone. Over Boerner’s tersely bluesy electric guitar and Allyn Love’s deliciously keening pedal steel, Jolly sings about a woman who “Found out on a Sunday with a pale face and racing heart” who knew she had to leave. As the narrative goes on and she finds unexpected comfort, it’s not clear if she’s actually escaped, or died and gone off to a better place. Likewise, the propulsive, crescendoing Happy Days Cafe, lit up with James Wallace’ jaunty, rippling piano, could be about a heartwaming encounter with a stranger…or a chance meeting with a ghost who can’t let go of what haunts him.

The rest of the album is impressively eclectic. Sweet Love, a balmy, shuffling bossa-tinged acoustic trip-hop number, reminds of Bob Marley. The Hard Way is a honkytonk song done as backbeat rock with a wild, snarling Boerner guitar solo, while the bitter, aphoristic Tear Soup is the most traditional C&W number here, complete with a spine-tingling blue yodel or three and more than a hint of operatics in the vocals as it winds out.

The anxious road song Long Way Home evokes another first-class Americana chanteuse, Mary Lee Kortes, right down to the catchy chorus and the crystalline vocals. The album’s strongest and hardest-hitting song, Round and Round Again, begins as a gentle waltz, a fond look back at young love and then explodes: “I’ll walk by you, as the sky splits in two,” Jolly wails in anguish on the chorus. The album ends with The Kiss, which sounds like Bjork doing Betty Carter, Jolly’s torchy vocals over an ambient drone and Mat Caughan’s muffled percussion, followed by the country waltz Good Man. This is an ambitious album: Jolly covers an awful lot of ground here, keeps her bearings and when she pulls out all the stops, it can be breathtaking.