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Hell's Half Acre – 1995 (Ardent)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Jolene

The most convincing track on this CD is the last, "Float Plane Notebooks," an enigmatic story based on a Clyde Edgerton novel, and played with acoustic guitar and fiddle, perfectly capturing the sigh and spirit of a father's risky flights. In it the almost pre-industrial rural south meets a compelling but tenuous revolution of engine and speed. And this defines Jolene at their best. John Crooke's scarred, frontier-fierce voice works well set beside the more sweetly picked, flickering melodies of "Alongside" and the Vic Chesnutt song "Isadora Duncan," (not to mention the warm welcome of Kim Richey's guest harmonies). But too often it merges with clench-and-crunch guitars, a sound as indistinguishably catchy and circular as the Gin Blossoms or other REM progeny. The lyrics throughout are fresh and knowing, but sometimes muddied by churning chords and Crooke's slurred howls. The band recalls Uncle Tupelo's pioneer alternative country record, "No Depression," where so much punk guitar roar never finds focus. But by steeping their music in the Carter Family, Doug Sahm and the Texas troubadours, Uncle Tupelo recorded their later masterpieces "March 13-20" and "Anodyne." Here's hoping Jolene may do the same. Jolie & The Wanted