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Riverside Battle Songs
Verve Forecast Records

I first heard of Ollabelle when a friend returned from seeing them at South By Southwest this year. He proclaimed that they were one of the best new bands he'd heard in years, and encouraged me to find their records. I took a trip to my local CD shop and found a copy of their debut self-titled record and bought it. I took it home and listened to it. I was not impressed. Where were all the alt-country/gritty blues/rock meanderings that I was supposed to be hearing? Their first record was simply an acceptable Appalachian gospel tinged neo-folk album that hinted at better things to come, but held none of the magic that I was expecting. So when I received their new record, Riverside Battle Songs, for review, I was a bit hesitant. Perhaps I was not the best person for this review. But I'd give it a shot, I figured… so I put the CD in my player, hit play and say back to listen.

From the first song, I was no longer in doubt about Ollabelle. The progressive rhythms and harmonies of "See Line Woman" immediately dispelled the hesitancy I had been feeling towards this band. Riverside Battle Songs is filled with darker tracks than the eponymous release, but maintains the clarity of the B-3 and the brilliance of the vocal harmonies that the band had already built into their foundation. This new crop of songs is stompier, bluesier, grittier than their earlier work, building much more of a country influence into the music to counterbalance the gospel. Ollabelle's cover of the classic "High On A Mountain" is a very clean arrangement with a tremendous understated bluesy feel. "Heaven's Pearls" looses the waters of historic country gospel, and the crying sound of steel guitar is a welcome voice in this beautiful and haunting tune; the track is soaked with Hammond organ and recalls the finer works of The Band. Sounding a bit like a relaxed Alison Krause, "Dream The Fall" is a wondrously soft and rollicking tune filled with mandola and some excellent fiddle saws… and the singer reminds of Joni Mitchell, but without the weakly warbling that always accompanied her voice.

From first to last song, Riverside Battle Songs fulfills the promise I was given that Ollabelle is one of the brightest new bands on the alt-country/folk scene… After a few listens I went back and relistened to the self-titled record and it sounds better than it did that many months ago, but the band has grown leaps and bounds since that recording. Now I can honestly recommend this band to anyone who enjoys finely crafted music with a touch of bluegrass, folk, and country leanings that is centered on well-written songs and brilliant musicianship. I honestly hope that Ollabelle continue to grow as a band and bless the world with more music of this ilk.

For the record: Ollabelle is co-fronted by Amy Helm, daughter of Band member Levon Helm. Riverside Battle Songs was mixed by T. Bone Burnett and co-produced by Larry Campbell, who has done time in touring bands for Roseanne Cash and Bob Dylan, as well as recording with the likes of Paul Simon and Lyle Lovett. No wonder this record sounds so darned good.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. See Line Woman
2. High On A Mountain
3. Heaven's Pearls
4. Fall Back
5. Dream The Fall
6. Blue Northern Lights
7. Reach For Love
8. Troubles Of The World
9. Riverside
10. Northern Star
11. Gone Today
12. Everything Is Broken
13. Last Lullaby

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