SECOND ALBUM (Verve Forecast)
The second album by Ollabelle, a five-piece band with an abiding devotion to American roots music, includes just five nonoriginal songs out of a baker’s dozen. That would be an unremarkable ratio, except that Ollabelle previously staked its identity almost exclusively on music with a weathered, nearly mythic authority. The word traditional appears often in the credits of their self-titled 2004 debut, issued on a label run by T Bone Burnett, who also featured the band on his Great High Mountain Tour.
Mr. Burnett had a hand in mixing this follow-up, but the greater avuncular presence is Larry Campbell, responsible not only for the album’s smartly sparse production but also for most of its electric guitar, lap and pedal steel guitar, banjo and fiddle playing. Mr. Campbell, like Mr. Burnett, used to play with Bob Dylan.
Sweet vocal harmonies — thoughtfully arranged to capitalize on a two-female, three-male lineup — are still the heart of Ollabelle’s sound. But that sound now bends toward the rustic 1970’s folk-rock of the Band, especially on tracks like “Fall Back” and “Reach for Love.” Ollabelle’s Amy Helm is the daughter of the Band’s drummer Levon Helm, who offered his barn in Woodstock, N.Y., for the group’s album preparations. In terms of influence, that setting seems to have finally eclipsed 9C, the East Village bar where the group formed. (Nevertheless, the bar, now called Banjo Jim’s, will feature Ollabelle tonight through Thursday with a rotating cast of special guests.)
Traditional sources still nourish this music; one reason the album works is that the new material sounds much like the old. The best track is by Ola Belle Reed, the old-time North Carolina singer who inspired the band’s name. Its chorus provides a mantra: “High on a mountain, wind blowing free/Thinking ’bout the way things used to be.” NATE CHINEN