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Northeast In Tune Magazine

It’s the music I like to listen to on long journeys – a gentle, laid back affair where the lyrics and melody enter you with ease, the steady beat drives the song along and each instrument, be it a voice or guitar, seems to be playing with each other in mind. A female J.J. Cale springs to mind, but there is more here than just a rework of someone else’s style.

A white San Franciscan of Austrian parentage, many of Olga’s previous reviewers have noted that with sounds of North Mississippi flowing so easily and with such authenticity you may be forgiven for thinking she had spent her life in the Hill Country and had only left it on touring duties. A view that is certainly hard to disagree with even after hearing just one song. Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald are among those Olga lists as her inspirations which, along with her close friendship with the recently deceased (see related information) Jessie Mae Hemphill, may provide some understanding as to how she attained such a genuine sound.

The songs are kept from delving into the repetitive by the many musical influences they are tinged with – from the slightly Latin feel of “Gotta Keep Moving” to the Motown-esque backing to “I Won’t Ask.” It is obvious throughout however that it is the blues that provides the basis for Olga’s sound, the sturdy roots from which the tree grows. This passion for the blues is none more evident than on standards such as “What’s the Matter with the Mill?” but it is the way in which Olga retains the simplicity and feel of the blues while experimenting and keeping the music fresh, that highlights her competence and song writing ability.

Her individual musical stamp is a subtle one that lets her influences shine through whilst avoiding the sound of a duplicate. If playing the blues is a lesson in keeping things simple then it is one lesson Olga seems to have mastered. When not playing solo (as she often does) Jimbo Mathus and house band Clarksdale Sound Machine provide very tight and rooted backing to Olga’s guitar and vocal parts but being classically trained in voice, violin and piano from a young age I would like to hear more of Olga on different instruments as well.

The latest album release from Olga – “Now is the Time” will not blow you away with amazing new sounds and techniques, but that is not what it is about. This is a mature and complete-feeling album – one for the road.

Related Information:
1. Jessie Mae Hemphill died July 22nd 2006 after an altercation from an ulcer.
2. “Now is the Time” is available here.
3. ‘Olga’, or the English equivalent ‘Helga’ is a name used mainly in Eastern Europe. Derived from Old Norse heilagr - "holy", "blessed".

-by Harry Stevens, November 2006

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