Jenny Allen’s “Blanket” – a connection is made
From the first notes of Jenny Allen’s Blanket, a connection is made.
From her frail, innocent-sounding voice to the authority displayed by her session players, it’s a perfect marriage. Each relies on the other, stronger by their union. Her third release, Blanket is country roots with a hint of pop, evidenced in the strength and staying power inherent in many of the album’s ten songs.
Sporting a slightly southern-sounding accent in her singing voice (though she’s from Calgary), Allen is buttressed by exceptional players, particularly producer (Jane Siberry, Be Good Tanyas) and multi-instrumentalist John Ellis. Drummer Pat Steward and bassist Rob Becker lay down a solid framework for Allen, backed by Ellis and guitarist Eric Reed while harmonies play an instrumental role across each original, as well as liberally applied steel guitar and pedal steel.
For reference, there are elements of Kasey Chambers and Lynn Miles in Allen’s voice: soothing, slightly sensuous. Allen serves the music rather than the other way around. Which is never a bad thing, especially here as the music is exceptional.
The opening track, “Blanket”, sets a standard which is hard to meet across some of the rest of the material. Her voice matches the song perfectly and the simpatico musical backdrop helps keeps Allen front and centre. Likewise, “Bigger Fish” makes for the perfect calling card, exuding some real muscle and a keeper chorus.
“Pale Girl” reveals a lovely, dreamy, if not quite ethereal, quality to Allen’s voice as she sticks close to guitarist John Ellis melodically. Guitar and voice work well together here, while the intriguing percussion sets a lovely backdrop.
A few songs hit the dirt — despite the airy use of banjo,“Beautiful Mess” never leaves the station. “Face the Music” (the sole co-write with singer/pal Leslie Alexander) is surprisingly lackluster country – a great rhythm but no heart.
The pace picks up with “So Sad”, which seems to build towards something special yet never quite concludes musically – although the accordion and tasteful guitar suggest greater potential.
“Could Have Been” comes off as overly sweet confection – some great sounds (especially pedal steel) yet the song appears to be without a proper tune, so it doesn’t stick.
The slower, more reflective “Quiet In Here” reveals a strength and, with slower numbers, Allen’s voice has more room to breathe. There’s sadness here – which makes for something memorable. Again, John Ellis’ baritone guitar paints a pretty picture around a voice that always responds to his efforts.
Another case in point is the kitschy “A Simple Word” where Allen gets all breathy with a hint of jazz in the school of Rickie Lee Jones. She bends her notes and leans toward the seductive to a backdrop of heavenly vocals. It’s a fun song yet it sticks out from the singer she presents elsewhere. Sure – it’s good to show some range but this song seems incongruous.
John Ellis — whether on piano, banjo, electric, slide or pedal steel guitar — proves himself MVP on this disc.
Jenny Allen has all the firepower she needs to make some very real impact. She has a great voice and a sturdy sense of herself. She has surrounded herself with a crackerjack group of players, including great harmony and vocal support from Leslie Alexander, Mel Smith and Pete Loughlin. The songs range from great, to slightly less so.
You know she’d be fun to see live. You know she’s got more energy than what lifts off the album. The combination of she and Ellis is a promising one. So, the next move is hers.
Jenny Allen and fellow singer-songwriter, Leslie Alexander, (pictured together above) make for an engaging double-bill currently making their way through a cross-country tour. For more information, check out their Dirty Laundry Tour (which began in Kamloops and ends in Oakville on June 3) at: www.reverbnation.com/allenandalexander