Although Texas-born Holland only stayed with the group until part-way through their first record was recorded, she hoped that further collaborations would be in their futures. ‘When I left I didn’t feel like I was done making music with Sam,’ she has said.
Fast forward to a telephone call ‘out of the blue’ between the two friends. It was well timed for both –touring for Holland’s sixth solo album, 2014’s Wine Dark Sea, had wound down, and although she had songs for a follow-up, she was hesitant to re-embark on that promotional cycle.
Parton, on the other hand, was still recovering from two serious car accidents that left her unable to play music and struggling to connect with her creativity. ‘I was in this wilderness of health problems and I hadn’t been able to do anything musically for three years,’ she says. ‘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. 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.’
And so last November, 18 years after their first musical partnership, the pair released Wildflower Blues. Ahead of the duo’s gig here next month, we’ve taken a tour through their music and pulled out five highlights.
Jolie & Samantha: Wildflower Blues (2017)
Holland and Parton describe their new record Wildflower Blues as a new chapter in the relationship, one which takes ‘a page from the big book of North Americana and outsider folk’. The title track is a paean to survival through inertia. Filled with twangy guitars, ethereal vocals and a soaring fiddle line, it mixes a deceptively sunny, laid back vibe with dark lyrics: there’s a ‘summer breeze blowing, storm coming in’, as the narrator sings. Fans of the hit TV show Nashville may have noticed it featured in an episode that ran earlier this year.
The Be Good Tanyas: The Littlest Birds (2000)
Recorded some 17 years before Wildflower Blues, this track shows why Holland and Parton so quickly recognised a kindred musical soul when they met. It combines traditional folk and country sounds and somehow comes out sounding like nobody else. And although it features sweet harmonies layered over a toe-tapping beat, don’t be deceived that this is some light-hearted ditty. A the lyrics put it, ‘I'm lonesome as a lonesome whippoorwill/ singing these blues with a warble and a trill’. The Littlest Birds is taken from The Be Good Tanyas’ first album, Blue Horse.
The Be Good Tanyas: Waiting Around to Die (2003)
The Be Good Tanyas went on to record Chinatown, released in 2003. The record found them covering some dark subjects, including drugs, gambling and, in this Townes Van Zandt cover, death.
The band went on to record one further studio album in 2006, before parting ways in 2008 after a sellout show in Royal Albert Hall. It was four years later, in 2012, that Parton suffered her first serious car accident.
Jolie Holland: Old Fashioned Morphine (2004)
Financial reasons had compelled Holland to leave The Be Good Tanyas and Vancouver, and she relocated to San Francisco. A series of demos was compiled into a record called Catalpa, which came out in 2003. A year later her first studio album appeared, Escondida, establishing Holland as a serious young songwriting talent. Old Fashioned Morphine was one of the songs from the record and it remains a favourite among her fans.
Jolie & Samantha: You Are Not Needed Now (2017)
Another cover of a Townes Van Zandt song – this time the iconic ‘You Are Not Needed Now’ – opens Holland and Parton’s Wildflower Blues LP. Ironically, after first collaborating so long ago, it is actually their debut recording. The accompanying video, directed by Anthony Frattolillo, was filmed in central California after Parton told Frattolillo that the song always makes her think of heaven.
As the director told The Boot: ‘Then it clicked for me, that a highway rest stop is symbolic of a kind of limbo or layover for lost souls. I imagined following one lost soul . . . And when he finally gets picked up at the end, to be lifted away from this sort of limbo, he puts his hat over his chest and lies down in the flatbed of the truck as if he’s coming to his final resting place – at peace.’