o's news jessie mae
219records TNR1007

Dissolver Magazine, April 2007

Olga—not the Online Guitar Archives, but rather Olga Wilhelmine Munding-Mathus (and yes I think that mouthful of monikers may have something to do with her decision to perform simply as Olga)—is a bluesy balladeer with a sultry southern voice that falls somewhere between Bonnie Raitt's and Amy Ray's. Her latest album, Now Is the Time, mixes polished originals with raw recordings of traditional tunes, and reaches points of pure transcendence.

Before we hit the good stuff, though, the title track kicks things off, and it admittedly feels a little awkward on the first listen. Olga sounds as though she's trying a bit too hard in some spots, and it took me a few minutes to get acclimated to the sound for some reason. I came back to this song after a run through the album, though, and it sounded fine—even if it's hardly a highlight.

"Your Love Don't Work Like Mine," on the other hand, follows in the 2-hole, and its mellow melody, soft harmonies, jaunty beat, and stirring outro combine to make it a near perfect song. "Weary" begins with a driving blues beat that is familiar, but only just; Olga runs with it, allowing the song to differentiate itself from its simpler cousins. The slightly out-of-tune clang of "Ain't It a Shame" lends the song an honest, saloon-like feel, and Olga's earnest emotion and heartache match the lovingly played mandolin, fiddle, and accordion.

"What's the Matter With the Mill" is the first of three traditional songs recorded with an exciting spontaneity. (Even better is the wonderfully addictive "Stealin'," complete with tuba and upright bass.) Co-producer and husband Jimbo Mathus's arrangements and backing vocals help make these tracks inviting and genuine; it makes me yearn to see them play together live.

Though it's wedged between the distracting "I Won't Ask" and the uninteresting jazz flop "Fool," I can't forget to mention the best track on the album, "Can You Forgive Me." With its shaken-up rhythm, subtle backing vocals, and effortless melody, it's everything you could ask for in a song, and another showcase for Olga's expressive voice.

While you wouldn't expect a San Francisco native—with Austrian roots, at that!—to take listeners deep into the heart of the Southern blues, Olga's warm, emotive voice, great feel for songwriting, and superb backup band make it happen on Now Is the Time.

-reviewed by Jason Holloway | Age: 28 | Boston, MA

[ back to news ]