Jen Elliott & Bluestruck,
8 Days Down
(City Canyon, 2006)

Jen Elliott has a fine voice. It's as supple as glove leather and, with her writing and singing partner Anne Husick backing her, you get two people who know their way around a song and who are able to stir up an emotion or two. The rest of the band rocks out pretty well, also; the musicians in Bluestruck have solid credentials -- they aren't beginners by any means -- so that when you listen, you hear echoes of previous women-led bands, such as Heart and the Pretenders.

They aren't aping the older bands, though. Elliott & Bluestruck have their own sound, as well as the good sense to ramp up their arrangements by bringing in guest artists like Deni Bonet on violin and cello and Wayne J. DeMaine on trumpet.

With all that talent, I have to ask why I'm not crazier about this CD. To arrive at an answer, we have to fall back on the old show-biz cliche: if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. And with this band, too often it ain't on the page. The writing is largely pedestrian and flat, filled with overly familiar constructions. For example, here are the first few lines of "You Are So Cruel."

Don't smile at me.
Don't take my hand
I think you better understand
that we are not friends,
we are not pals
and you lie with every breath you take.
See that door?
Know what it's for?

It lacks a certain freshness and makes you long for a metaphor. In "Bringing Me down," Elliott begins with these lyrics:

I question every day
how you make me feel this way.
Time takes a toll on me
when you have this hold on me.

Same thing. The bald, flat statement doesn't engage a listener. It just lies there, making you feel you've heard the song before when you haven't.

You'll probably enjoy the singing and playing on 8 Days Down, but you're going to have to ignore the lyrics.

by Michael Scott Cain
10 February 2007

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