Artist: The Hollands
Title: Ashes to Beauty
Label: Dutchy Love Records
Release Date: 3/17/2011
Reviewer: Joshua Hedlund
- Morning Star
- Lion and the Lamb
- Rebel Love
- Bitter Honey, Sin and Bones, Lady Wisdom, Lead Me Home
- Tears In My Heart
- Unfashionable Wisdom
- Old Man’s Town
Hailing one-half from Wisconsin, one-half from Australia, Jana and Craig Holland form the backbone of acoustic folk band The Hollands. Their latest album, Ashes to Beauty, is made up of simply structured songs led primarily by Jana’s strong voice and Craig’s acoustic guitar, with all sorts of folk instruments making subtle appearances, including a banjo, mandolin, and accordion. There’s even a bit of a Celtic/Irish feel when the violin wafts its way into the scene, especially when guided by Craig’s almost-punk rhythms.
The age-old story since the fall of man, Jana sings on the album’s opener, a bouncy track with some light percussion accompanying the guitar rhythm. You met me in the desert and you carried my heavy load / And my heart was filled with sorrow for the things that I had done / And we wept but kept on walking to the freedom of the sun / Yeah, we wept but kept on walking to the freedom of the sun.
“Morning Star” kicks off with some light banjo picking that feels right at home with an old Sufjan jam before picking up the female vocals and cello interludes, and the rest of the album proceeds in a similar fashion. In an age of over-produced synthetic strings, it’s refreshing to hear the simple melodies of some beautiful solo stringed instruments. The music on the album is well-crafted, not too busy when it needs to be simple but also not afraid to showcase some creative development in a few places.
Written after over ten years of marriage, the Hollands sing about life and love, through both challenges and redemption. “Lion and the Lamb” speaks from God’s perspective: I am the shelter from the storm / I am the voice that gave you form / I am the refuge for the heart without a home / I am the Lion / I am the Lamb. The sparse instruments plod along, creating a relaxing atmosphere that almost transports you to a folding chair under a humid Cornerstone tent and its simple community of contentment.
“Sojourner” picks things up a bit, creating a little acoustic jig with its violin and flute that could almost be an old Flatfoot 56 intro (Maybe that’s because Craig used to be in Ballydowse, another Chicago celtic punk band). It leads into “Rebel Love,” where Jana tells their rugged story: Midwestern gypsy girl / Single mother / Weight of the world on her shoulders / Met an Aussie boy from down under / Swam across to find her / New land, new love can I share with you / Share with you my heavy burden … Love that grows in our garden. “Fairland” is another soft song that turns into a jig and briefly features the Alana Spring Hall Choir cooing, Come and go with me, back to my Father’s house.
Ashes to Beauty bucks the short-album trend with 11 tracks coming in at over 41 minutes, although as a result you may feel a little bored before the end of it, especially if acoustic folk jams aren’t your thing. Some of the lyrics, while brutally honest, may also seem a little trite at times with their simple rhymes: Ten years in, what a lovely mess / You’re my best friend, still I must confess / That I’ve got tears in my heart. But press on, the album’s catchiest song is saved for the end. The verses of “Old Man’s Town” sum up the album’s themes, and you’ll be humming the chorus for the rest of the day: Sing my woe / Sing my joy / Sing my friends, now don’t be coy.
Overall: Ashes to Beauty is a fresh tale of personal challenges and celebrations. It’s full of simple, acoustic folk jams with a variety of instruments sharing the spotlight, falling somewhere in between The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and Flatfoot 56. Give them a listen, and don’t forget to catch them on tour or at Cornerstone!