Wildflower Blues, the gorgeous new album by Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, began with a phone call between two friends. The two hadn’t played together in years, but still shared a strong musical and personal connection. Each has exerted a strong musical influence on the other.
When they first met nearly twenty years ago on an East Vancouver street corner, the conversation inevitably turned to music. Very soon they co-founded The Be Good Tanyas, the groundbreaking roots act that used traditional folk, country, and blues music to explore a range of different styles and sounds. Holland departed the group after only one album, but remained hopeful that she and Parton would collaborate in the future.
That “out of the blue” phone call turned out to be well timed for both musicians. Touring for Holland’s sixth solo album, 2014’s Wine Dark Sea, had wound down, and although she had songs for a follow-up, she was hesitant to re-embark on that promotional cycle. Parton, on the other hand, was still recovering from two serious car accidents that left her unable to play music and struggling to connect with her creativity.
The two began by writing a few songs together at Parton’s home in Vancouver. When Parton felt stronger, they embarked on a low-key tour, as much to road test their new songs as to ease Parton back into the grind of sound checks, long drives, and late nights.
Emboldened by a successful tour together, they decamped to the Portland, Oregon, home studio of Mike Coykendall (Old Joe Clarks, M. Ward), and Holland assembled a small band of musicians to back them, including Stevie Weinstein-Foner (guitar), Jared Samuel, (piano, bass, guitar), and Justin Veloso (drums). During that time they listened a lot to Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan’s 1969 album, enjoying the looseness of that music, the sense of freedom and possibility. It became a kind of guide for Wildflower Blues, in spirit if not necessarily in sound.
As they worked, the songs took on lives of their own, and both Holland and Parton determined to follow them wherever they led. The title track began as an acoustic blues tune that gradually transformed into a swampy psych jam, anchored to a portentous bassline yet attuned to something larger, something spiritual, something defiant. The album wanders from rural blues to folk and ragtime, from smoky jazz to emotive R&B and fearless rock & roll.