Record Review - 3 June 03 2004

Amy Helm sings like an infinitely capable musician who grew up listening to dusty records that forever remain twice her age. The daughter of the Band drummer Levon Helm is the versatile vocalist for New York sextet Ollabelle, and her full-throated, supple tone ideally compliments the group’s lively update of gospel, blues, country and their joyous crossbreeds. And Ollabelle’s self-titled debut is both a convivial folk-music celebration and maddening purification of the same.

Ollabelle’s 14 tracks are a mix of traditional songs and folk classics (“Soul of a Man,” the Carter Family’s “The Storms Are on the Ocean”) and originals ebulliently inspired by those traditions (the rousing “Get Back Temptation”). It’s all captured in that lush symphonic treatment of Ry Cooder or T. Bone Burnett (executive producer of Ollabelle, which appears on his DMZ imprint). That polish shines Ollabelle into a cuddly headphones friend — the handclaps, drums and tambourine shimmy of “Before This Time” warmly crackles around the ears — but it also cleans up these songs a tad too much, and they start to feel like the nouveau old of a Pottery Barn catalog.

Ollabelle’s song traditions are nice and clean and sincerely fashionable enough, but after a few listens, you suspect that you can find the real thing for half the price and twice the craftsmanship.

Ollabelle plays the Fox Theatre Tues., June 8. 7:30 p.m. $49-$59.