Ollabelle came together because of these musicians' love of this music. It has great value to our culture, adding new life to a tradition that is an important part of who we are. But mostly, they sound great. 'They sing great and they play great, and they are wonderful people.' T-Bone Burnett. A collection of songs of hard times, loss, compassion and hope is how Fiona McBain describes Riverside Battle Songs, Ollabelle's second album and Verve Forecast debut. The 13-song set finds the New York quintet building upon the foundation of its self-titled 2004 debut, drawing from a deep well of gospel, blues, bluegrass, and country influences to create timelessly resonant music that honors the integrity of its sources while remaining effortlessly contemporary.
With the musical maturity of this sophomore release, Ollabelle extend their accomplishment of forging a singular style bridging folk and art songs from the talents of five singer-songwriters. While Amy Helm, daughter of the Band's Levon, boasts the highest-profile lineage, the two-woman, three-man band has the balance of a democratic collective, combining deep roots with soaring, sophisticated harmonies. "Troubles of the World," an elegiac reading of the traditional "Riverside," the call-and-response of "Gone Today," and the closing "Last Lullaby" reflect the spiritual underpinnings of the quintet's signature sound, but the stylistic range extends from the Caribbean lilt of the opening "See Line Woman" and the stately country waltz of "Heaven's Pearls" to the delta blues of "Fall Back" and the Celtic balladry of "Dream the Fall." Except for the lovesick "Blue Northern Lights" and the bittersweet delicacy of "Everything Is Broken," it's difficult to distinguish the band's arrangements of traditional material from the original songwriting that dominates. Larry Campbell, formerly of Bob Dylan's band, provides superb production and multi-instrumental support. --Don McLeese