High Plains Drifting

Big Charisma for Little Blacksmiths



I CAN BE A COLD, ill-tempered bastard sometimes, but there is a very easy way to my heart. (A) Be Jolie Holland (whom I am in love with and call the "country Billie Holiday.") (B) Sound like Jolie Holland. (C) Get Jolie Holland on your record. San Francisco's Last of the Blacksmiths did the latter.

Hoping to be bowled over, I listened to Jolie's tracks on the band's self-titled debut first. "Tree Song," on which she plays viola, is less old-timey than a lot of the record. Where songs like the traditional "Columbus Stockade Blues" and "Knowing Me" have a rustic charisma, "Tree Song" runs closer to Pedro the Lion: a long minor-key road song that's all diesel fumes, big sky, and brooding thunderheads. Her other one, "In My Hands," is easy-going Americana with Jolie playing violin over Nathan Wanta's malt-smooth voice.

But while Jolie's tracks are good, it's songs like "Columbus Stockade Blues" that sealed the deal for me. Over heavily harmonized old country, Nigel Pavao sings "Last night as I lay sleeping/I dreamt I held you in my arms/when I awoke I was mistaken/I was peeping through those prison bars." Midway through, Hammond B3 organ and drums kick in and it turns into a tough little Nashville jawbreaker.

So, Last of the Blacksmiths play Friday at Acme. They're the middle band with a self-released record, playing a five-dollar show. They'll also be at Ash Street on Monday, an off night. These kinds of things can get swept under the rug and ignored for the bigger, hipper, high-profile shows. Don't let that stop you. Any of it.


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