The soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 2 is now out on Maverick Records.
As usual with a Tarantino soundtrack, it's an eclectic listen. Featuring the work of Ennio Morricone, the disc also includes Johnny Cash's "A Satisfied Mind" Charlie Feathers' "Can't Hardly Stand It" and Shivaree's brilliant "Goodnight Moon," which was sadly overlooked a couple of years ago on its original release. Hopefully, its inclusion here will give the song a new life.
I have to preface this review by noting that listening to old blues and classic spirituals generally is not my cup of tea. So I was a little surprised at myself when Ollabelle's debut lodged itself in my CD player and refused to be removed. Every time I reached to eject it, I thought, "Well, maybe just one more listen."
A sextet from New York, Ollabelle features Amy Helm, a soulful blues singer with just the right touch of huskiness; Fiona McBain, an Australian guitarist-singer; Byron Isaacs, a bassist-singer; Glenn Patscha, a singer-organist who spent a long career on the New Orleans jazz scene; Tony Leone, a jazz drummer, and Jimi Zhivago, a multi-instrumentalist.
Inspired by traditional country singer Ola Belle Reed, after some loose jams at a New York roots club, the group cut a demo that caught the ear of producer T-Bone Burnett. Before long, the fledgling band was recording for Columbia.
Given its members' roots and jazz backgrounds, you'd hardly expect the first album to heavily mine the fields of old spirituals such as "Soul of a Man," "Elijah Rock" and "Jesus on the Mainline (which A3 fans will recognize)." But that's exactly what Ollabelle does — and with a wealth of emotion, style and vocal harmonies.
The blues guitar licks are there, as are some jazzy Hammond-organ swashes, especially on the low, slow jam of the classic bluesy hymn "No More My Lord." And one of Ollabelle's few originals, "I Don't Want to Be That Man," sung by Patscha, sounds like a rediscovered sparsely picked guitar blues song in the spirit of Robert Johnson.
But the true revelation here is in the mix of soulful gospel-tinged vocals from Helm and the rest of the band. On "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus" and "Before This Time," the group sounds ready to burst into a full-fledged tent revival, while on the gently strummed Carter Family cover, "The Storms Are on the Ocean," Helms sounds as if she's performing a classic Celtic hymn. The band takes a turn on The Rolling Stones' "I Am Waiting," which sounds like a Southern gospel blues chant, rather than a Stones revival. And on "John the Revelator," Patscha takes the mike to offer a fuzzy blues lead vocal, complete with background harmonica growls.
Ollabelle melds all of these rootsy styles into a seamless whole and makes a number of traditional hymns feel new and vibrant again. Recommended.
(Ollabelle will play the Opera House in Chicago May 8.)