March 2007

Ollabelle - Riverside Battle Songs
Verve Forcast B0006756-02
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

This New York-based quartet is a talented bunch. Each individual contributes volumes to the final product, but perhaps it is just such richness that detracts from the overall cohesiveness of their second studio album, Riverside Battle Songs. It is not the recording quality at fault here; the 13 songs on the album are expertly produced by Larry Campbell and professionally wrought. It is more the attempt at so broad a scope that it leaves the listener faltering in a genre-clogged quagmire. Folk, country, rock, pop and gospel styles can all be heard, but sound distinctly divorced from one another track by track rather than meshing smoothly overall.

Of course, there could be worse things than to defy categorization. The members of Ollabelle are all remarkable musicians, and they do fuse harmonies, if not styles, brilliantly. Listen to "Gone Today" for a stirring gospel original, reminiscent of the traditional "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." Mandola player and vocalist Amy Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm, drummer of the Band, and some of the more rock-laden tracks pay inspirational tribute to that great musical group. It appears, however, that what this group does best is the mellow, slow jam -- simple love songs for the self-assured and levelheaded. Tracks such as "Northern Star," "Everything is Broken" and "Blue Northern Lights" are pretty and sedate, but certainly not battle songs.

While Riverside Battle Songs may be a bit discombobulated and overly ambitious, it is intriguing enough to pique my interest in this band. There is little doubt that Ollabelle will be back again and just may be working up to something great.