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Review By Steve Guttenberg
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CD Number: DMZ/Columbia CK 90572


  Ollabelle is a Gospel/blue-eyed soul sextet coming at ya’ from deep in the Village, the East Village that is, in NYC. This band's music immediately hot-wired itself to some long neglected synapses in my brain — Ollabelle’s self titled debut is a knockout. The name was inspired by Ola Belle Reed, a country singer the band admires.

Ollabelle is a collective of singer/songwriters that performed regularly at 9C, a now extinct bar located at the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C in the East Village. Lead singer Amy Helm, hails from Woodstock, NY; bassist Byron Isaacs is from Brooklyn; drummer Tony Leone is a jazz drummer; singer/guitarist Fiona McBain dropped in from Sydney, Australia; guitarist Jimi Zhivago is a bona-fide downtown veteran, ah but keyboard player Glenn Patscha learned a thing or two in New Orleans. I admit I've never heard of a single one before, but I did a Google search and their names appeared on dozens of other folks' records. Ollabelle's tunes are split between blues standards, traditional and originals penned by the band’s members. Remember Ry Cooder’s earlier sanctified sound or Delaney and Bonnie’s best stuff, that’s Ollabelle's realm.

If you have had your fill of overproduced gloss, or the contrived lo-fi crap the majors are spewing out, Ollabelle’s gritty, down-home sound will offer blessed relief. Take "Elijah Rock," where’s Fiona McBain's soulful vocal testifies over a steamy bed of atmospheric electric guitars and rolling organ riffs. The old Rolling Stones tune "I Am Waiting" is, at the same time, ominous, hopeful and scary. Amy Helm's sparsely arranged "Two Steps" is taken nice ‘n’ slow, with her beautiful high voice cradled by acoustic guitar, mandolin, and dobro. I can’t get enough of the slippery groove that runs through "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus." Pretty much every tune is a strong contender.

Sorry folks, but the sound quality isn’t audiophile demo grade, it is a tad coarse and grainy, but at least the acoustic guitars sound like acoustic guitars. That's getting to be a rare feat because most of today's engineers are lazy and don’t mic guitars — they prefer to record guitars from pick-ups — but they do not sound like acoustic guitars. Ollabelle's string driven acoustic numbers feel real.




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