For a rock/folk lover, living in the old gray Europe can sometimes be really heartbreaking. Many American artists and albums unfortunately do not get past the Atlantic Ocean and reach European shores, so that among us in the old continent, there was a rumor that this genre was almost extinct. Well, dear European friends (you Americans already know it) I have good news for you: great folk/rock is not dead, in fact, in the endless prairies of the American Continent there is a new generation of songwriters ready to make us not regret their illustrious predecessors.
And it is with great joy that I present to you, Canadian, Rolla Olak and his new album Western Heart.
The atmosphere of the whole album is typically crepuscular and genuine, as if between the notes of the songs you could breathe in the smell of firewood and rain just absorbed by the ground after a storm. Even more markedly rock songs, such as “Heart will not let go,” “Karolina” and “Golden Child,” though enriched by the presence of electric guitars and strong paced drums, would be perfect played by the light of a candle, surrounded by carpets, incense and a silent crowd that feeds on the absolutely pure vibration that Rolla’s voice emanates.
Some time ago I read “Bob Dylan Chronicles” and I was struck by his tales about Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie and other fathers of American music, playing together in small houses surrounded by swamps or in the woods, with glasses of bourbon and endless nights. Well, listening to Western Heart my mind goes back those images, in a modern way.
And to combine modernity with tradition, we have “God only knows”, featured with the very talented Louise Burns. The influence of the founders of the great country/folk is clear and it is only an added value to the excellent songwriting of Rolla, that in this song I was brought back to the golden days of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ touching duets. Piano, slide guitar, smooth organ, traditional flavors which hide a modern taste (well, also the art of being “vintage” is very actual) occur from the beginning of the song (the “reverse” effect introducing the song is great).
The album, as opposed to what happens in most cases, grows in a downward, following the passing of the hours, from the last moments of the afternoon lights, through the dusk, until you reach the darkest night. And in the night where Rolla seems to give the best of himself, modulating the intensity of the voice and strumming, building emotional dynamics rather than music in “Rainy Days”.
“Diamonds” is the last song. The musicians have already disassembled instruments and are gone, the candles are gradually dying and Rolla is still there, on the wooden stool, singing the last verse with his guitar and a veil of melancholy. Recording stops almost suddenly, as if the last inch of tape available was exhausted, as if the album would end at its emotional peak. Its night and even the fireflies have gone to sleep. In the morning when we draw the curtains it will be a brand new day, and the echoes of Rolla’s song will again begin to resonate there, in the woods.