A young country artist releases an album written over a hard period in her life; her clever use of instrumentals makes her sound and her sorrows enchanting.
In the past few years, the light country music of New York singer-songwriter Jennie Stearns has changed somewhat. What was once a musical collaboration with banjos and cappoed guitars is something else entirely. She has always been generous to the musicians that she works with and inventive in their use. Their clever layering has been an integral part of her soulful songs, but here she is only backed by a piano and a lonely guitar, it leaves voice her voice fragile.
It sings of a sorrow that guides her new direction and tinges her lyrics, though she sets it out so beautifully that it never feels overbearing. I tend to find albums that dwell on heartbreak a little depressing, but Stearns’ is told in a complex portrait. It has glimpses of a life - ‘dancing to Neil Diamond/in a dive in New Hampshire’ - as well as of that life’s frustrations, namely an uninspired partner: ‘You, captive in your bed…watching the sand drip down’. These quotes are from the opening track, Shadows on the Water. From then her songs create flashes of scenes that are gone before you can figure them out and form tragic characters like Frida that intrigue you in their poetry. If you were going to distinguish Stearns from better-known artists such as Gillian Welch and Cat Power, you need only to listen to these enchanting lyrics. A genuine song-writing talent.
Blurry Edges, alluding both to the state of mind in which it was written as well as its soft style, is used to finish the album. It is another great song but it brings a final note of optimism: ‘Sing, sing, until you’re warm’. Katy Browse