Ollabelle – Before This Time

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)




It’s hardly
usual for a band’s third album to be live and have something of a greatest hits
slant by including five previously recorded songs out of the 10 on this disc.
But Ollabelle is hardly your usual band.


As the deeply
rooted American music group got its start playing a small club on New York’s Lower East Side,
a live album makes perfect sense. The trajectory of their two previous albums,
both studio affairs on two different major labels, found the first most
impressive and the second far less so, making this indie release feel like a
re-entrenchment. Whatever the case, in performance is where this act shines.
And where its atmospheric extended arrangements – all but three songs exceed
five minutes long, and two go more than seven – crackle in a way that studio
recordings can’t usually capture.


creates what can be called both soul and mood music, though not to tag it as
R&B (which is in their music, though more its gospel and blues antecedents)
nor as easy listening (even if Ollabelle’s music feels as comfortable as God’s
own couch). And these concert recordings beautifully capture the band’s organic
musical vibe, one that draws from deep within the American soil of styles to
create a sound that sounds utterly natural if not preordained, not unlike The
Band. Which makes sense even if it’s too often the easy comparison because one
of the band’s singers is Amy Helm, daughter of Band singer and drummer Levon
Helm (who drums on the final track here).


But the way
Ollabelle colors “Ain’t No More Cane,” a song The Band also did, proves that
they’ve got their own stamp, albeit one of many colors, a good many of them
dusky. It’s a feel that brings spooky new dimensions to what could be a hoary
standard, “Saints” (Go Marching In), brings out the vibrant spirit of a New
Orleans second line marching into the Full Gospel Tabernacle on “Before This
Time,” and makes the slow-burning “Soul of a Man” truly feel like the struggle
between salvation and damnation. Their similar crafty way with modern covers
makes the Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown
Palace” sound decades
older than its origin, and on everything, the band’s playing is as choral as
its singing. A lack of originals – this act’s weakest link in a thick chain of
strengths – suggests this CD might be a holding action. But if so, Ollabelle
treads water head and shoulders if not feet above most anyone else mining the
American musical tradition in this modern age.


Standout Tracks: “Brokedown Palace,”
“Ain’t No More Cane,” “Before This Time” ROB PATTERSON


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