The easygoing eclecticism of Jolie Holland’s much-praised 2003 debut, Catalpa, made it a shot in the arm to a folk scene that can always use one. It was seemingly the work of a talented young woman operating a four-track amid a pile of scratchy old vinyl–Billie Holiday albums, Nico albums, Smithsonian Folkways LPs, original Broadway cast recordings–strewn about for quick reference. But to listeners willing to make a distinction between poor audio quality and authenticity, Catalpa sounded like what it was: an appealing collection of demos that could still have used some fleshing out. The coughing and background clatter are gone on Escondida (Anti-), Holland’s first record made in a studio, and the performances have improved to match the engineering. Now backed by a band, she sings with a new flexibility and playfulness even when the subject matter is somber. It often is, but throughout Holland finds joy in the pain of transition–skipping town on “Goodbye California,” kissing off a relationship on “Do You?” (sealed with a delicately whispered “you motherfucker”), hitting rock bottom but looking up on “Poor Girl’s Blues.” The unavoidable comparisons to Holiday and Nico are apt as far as surface texture goes, but the surrealism of Holland’s lyrics and the intensity she brings to them are wholly her own. Edith Frost and Sean Hayes open. Friday 8, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.