Ollabelle takes traditional gospel music and combines it with folk, smoky jazz and blues to create something that is innovative but ultimately too ballad-heavy.
Ollabelle formed after the 9-11 tragedy. Each member was doing their own thing in the musical world when they came together at a local bar and started playing together. Before they knew it, they were playing to a packed house at that same bar and were soon signed to Columbia Records.
Their self-titled debut opens with “Before This Time,” your basic get-up-and-shout-Alleluia traditional hymn. But this does not adequately describe how laid-back this album really is. “Elijah Rock” and “Jesus on the Mainline” are smoky lounge tunes that put me to sleep after the first verse. Ollabelle simply does not use enough of the up-tempo gospel spirit to keep this album going. After the first track, the rest of the album suffers from Don Henley syndrome. Don Henley syndrome, also known as Phil Collins syndrome, is when a musician fills an album with songs that make a 50-minute album seem like two weeks.
“Soul of a Man” is a traditional hymn. But this arrangement invokes very contradictory feelings. The lyrics contemplate what constitutes the soul of a man. The music, however, is sultry and taunting, as if they took it from a film noir movie right when the buxom beauty walks into the detective’s office. The song is wonderfully done, but I’m not quite sure what to feel. Whatever it is, I feel dirty for feeling it. (Get your head out of the gutter. We’re talking about gospel hymns people.)
If Ollabelle had a few more up-tempo songs, this album would be great. But as it is, Ollabelle coast on one groove and get boring instead of better along the way.