What does it sound like?:
The phrase “recorded at home” either fills the prospective listener with dread that the CD they are holding is filled with demo takes of songs where all the vocals and instruments fight for attention, and the general feeling of being recorded in a cardboard box or a barn with no acoustic worth.
Or the recording may have gone through several computer-based doctoring processes (Pro Tools et al) fleecing it of any honesty or reality.
In this instance, Jean Oliver’s wholly honest recordings were done in a home studio, but a very well appointed home studio, and produced by someone who knows how to drive the sliders, buttons and blinking lights in front of them.
This debut album is a collection of songs from a (sometimes deeply) personal perspective of life, love and loss.
I am not going to explain the gestation of these songs, because the author tells the story far better than any reductive tone I may place upon it.
(link in comments below)
The 10 songs here all adopt a similar style and tone – one that I identify to be rooted in the folk-ish singer/songwriter mould.
They are a collection of thoughts and feelings with an bit of autobiography underpinning them.
In some places, you feel like you are intruding on a personal moment.
The acoustic guitar is firmly positioned as the lead instrument, with Jean’s plaintive voice laying over the top. Where there are other instruments involved, these are not intrusive and do compliment the musical landscape.
Weirdly (or maybe by design?), some of the other instruments chosen (recorder, dulcimer, cor anglais) set an almost medieval, madrigal tone to the songs.
But this is not about layering on the instruments to create a full, tight sound – this is basically the thoughts, feelings and musings of a girl and her guitar.
Opening track “Never Have I Felt This Way” is a strong start and sets the tone for the album.
“I’ve Cried You A River” is a fine tune and rawly emotional song.
The fuller sound of “Because You’re Gone” lifts the album – it’s still plaintive in tone, but just sounds more “present” in the latter half of the album.
If anything, to my un-trained cloth-like ears, this is the best track on the album.
Apart from …
the closing track “Little White Feathers” is a change of tone.
This track is not as closely personal in tone, but seemingly written from an empathetic view point. It’s almost like a third-person tale of hope and re-assurance, and closes the album with a good feeling.
Because it is less personal, but still personal in statement (does that make sense?), it is perhaps the easiest to listen to, and the one I would choose if someone asked me “what does this album sound like then?”
What does it all *mean*?
In a world of mass-produced music designed to please as many as possible with the least effort, there are still people sitting down and doing it for themselves.
Not because they have to, because they want to
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
I’m going to go reductive again (confusingly reductive?) and try to identify the musical comparisons I’m hearing here are:
A bit of 60s/70s folk-y stylings (Cat Stevens meets Sandy Denny?), with added Country and Western/Alison Krauss-ish inflections, topped off with a bit of All About Eve and a bit of The Unthanks-ish-ness.
And that may be a bit unfair, because what you have here is a group of songs with no particular root other than the personal, emotive desire to provide some form of cathartic outlet.