Jenny Gillespie,
(independent, 2010)

Kindred is an enjoyable collection of songs that sets out to create a set of atmospheric soundscapes. It generally succeeds -- sometimes it succeeds too well, as I'll explain in a moment -- and Jenny Gillespie comes across as a very talented singer/songwriter.

"Golden Central," the opening track, sets the pattern for much of what's to come. It's a building storm of a song, starting with Gillespie's piano and multi-tracked vocals, slowly joined by an array of session musicians, programmed and "organic" drums, and synthesizers, building and building into a swirling miasma of sound that overpowers the listener -- and that's where Kindred runs into its only real problem: Darwin Smith's over-eager production.

Smith is a good producer, but he tends to overpower the songs with echo and multi-layered, multi-tracked instrumentation, sometimes to the detriment of the songs' more delicate moments. The performances on Kindred are uniformly excellent -- of particular note are Steve Moore's fine keyboard work and Dony Wynn's steady percussion -- but Smith tends to mix them so loud or adorn them with so much effect that it winds up reaching the point of negative returns. "Secret Passageway," for instance, is so drenched in echo that it's actually hard to hear individual notes or even what Gillespie is singing.

That comes up again and again. It's a shame as she has a lovely voice, but songs like "Swimming in Amber" and "Merged Furs" are sometimes so laden down with Kate Bush-like frippery, and Gillespie's voice is so far down in the mix, that it lessens my enjoyment of the music. It suggests perhaps that Smith and Gillespie were a little too in love with their own effects-making and not quite as confident in the strength of the songs to carry the arrangements, rather than vice versa.

I find it interesting that the album's strongest songs -- "In the Garden," "Blue Morpho" and the grand closing track "Hearts for Eyes," with its lovely instrumental coda -- suffer less from this problem. "Garden" especially is clear as a bell. Gillespie's voice is strong in the mix, and the instruments don't seem to be falling all over themselves to be heard as they do elsewhere on the CD. If more of the CD followed this pattern, it would be a far more rewarding listen.

That said, overall Kindred is a good listening experience, and while the album never quite catches fire, it smolders very well. And that in and of itself is worthwhile. Sometimes it's better to smolder, because it promises a good fire to come. I'm intrigued enough by this CD to see what Gillespie will do with her next one.

music review by
Jay Whelan

18 September 2010

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