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First Play: Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, Wildflower Blues

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Holly Gordon

Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton have known each other for nearly two decades, briefly making music together when they co-founded Vancouver’s the Be Good Tanyas — with Frazey Ford and Trish Klein — in 1999. While Holland left the band after its 2000 debut album, she knew that wasn’t the end.

“When I left,” Holland said in a statement, “I didn’t feel like I was done making music with Sam.”

Wildflower Blues is the result of that resolve. Seven original songs plus three covers — Townes Van Zandt’s “You Are Not Needed Now,” Michael Hurley’s “Jocko's Lament” and a rewrite of Bob Dylan’s “Minstrel Boy” — make up this first album for Holland and Parton as a duo. And from the sound of their flawless, supportive harmonies and the space they make for each other on every track, it can’t be the last.

Parton was still recovering from two serious car accidents — in 2012 and 2013 — when Holland contacted her to work together.

“When Jolie called me up, I was so sick of lying on my back staring at the ceiling in a doctor’s office, that I was ready to say yes to anything, whether I could do it or not,” Parton said. “I knew I could trust her to be supportive and understanding, even if I wasn’t at full capacity. She was an outstretched hand to me at a moment when I really needed that.”

The two started writing together, then headed out on a small road-testing tour — as much for the songs as for Parton, for her to ease “back into the grind of soundchecks, long drives and late nights.” After that proved successful, they recorded their album in the Portland, Ore., studio of Mike Coykendall (She & Him, Bright Eyes, M. Ward), with Stevie Weinstein-Foner (guitar), Jared Samuel (piano, bass, guitar) and Justin Veloso (drums).

While Wildflower Blues slides comfortably between its Americana contemporaries, Holland’s insistence that “the idea of genre is really unattractive” is apparent throughout. Whether it’s the bluesy bassline of the title track, Holland’s distinctive vocals pulling out the final plea of “Make it up to Me,” the quiet testament of the harmonies on “Little Black Bear” — a song that appeared on the Be Good Tanyas' A Collection but, as Parton emailed, "felt unfinished, until Jolie helped write a third verse" — or that sharp whistle on “Jocko’s Lament,” Wildflower Blues is, more than anything, about the relationship between two kindreds finding their voices together again.

Wildflower Blues will be available Sept. 8 via Holland and Parton’s own label, Cinquefoil Records. Pre-order it here.