CD REVIEW: Jenn Lindsay - Uphill Both Ways
By Chip Withrow - 06/07/2006 - 09:53 PM EDT
Artist: Jenn Lindsay
Album: Uphill Both Ways
I admire Jenn Lindsay’s ambition as much as her music. Uphill Both Ways requires repeated listens to truly appreciate the multiple instruments, hypnotic vocals, and inventive song structures. Even the stuff I didn’t get at first seemed textured and wonderfully crafted by the third, seventh or 16th time I heard it.
Uphill Both Ways reminds me of this bootleg I have of the Beach Boys in the studio after Brian Wilson entered his orchestral phase. Jenn’s songs are acoustic at their core, then layered with instruments and harmony vocals. Jenn's voice itself is intriguing and versatile - it can be storytelling, lilting, and/or commanding.
The first two songs – the title track and “Brain” – are spunky almost-power pop. “Brain” in particular is a killer, urgent and percussive with a dramatic string-synth ending. One of my few problems with the disc is there’s only one truly up-tempo number after the first two. But it’s “Memphis” – strange and cool, with guitars that twang and ring in harmonics and Jenn’s wistful vocals – and it’s both rockabilly and pretty.
Some of the tracks are haunting – “In Brooklyn,” “Postolka,” and “Belong Alone.” At first, I didn’t dig the backing vocals on “Being Alone,” but it became one of my favorites – the lower-register vocals made sense in the context of Jenn’s plaintive singing, like voices lost and looking for but just missing each other.
“Postolka” is daring and breathtaking – I don’t know what that accordion-sounding instrument is in the background (an accordion, maybe?), but it’s a riveting anchor against which waves of percussion and vocals crash.
Even the songs that don’t grab me as much are charming: “I Knew You” is a bit too clever lyrically, but the acoustic guitar runs are nifty. “It Came 2 Me” seems kind of Alanis Morrissette-ish, but it has a catchy, off-kilter bounce.
I like the guitar picking and spooky singing in the ode to Hurricane Katrina victims “House in New Orleans.” But it’s a little too earnest, and the idea of setting a Katrina tale to “House of the Rising Sun” has already been done so brilliantly by the Blind Boys of Alabama.
But the next tune makes up for it. “Christmas Song” is indeed a strikingly original holiday song – simply guitar and washes of percussion, and a clever juxtaposition with the classic “Let It Snow” melody.
It was while listening to the final four cuts – everything from “New Orleans” to "Kitchen Sink" (Jenn saves her best lyrics for last) – that I realized the aforementioned Brian Wilson connection. They seem almost like they belong on a different CD, as if they were overheard, recorded by someone in another room. It would have been cool to mix in some of these among the denser numbers.
I started writing this review with the idea that Jenn Lindsay was a gutsy performer who sometimes overreached. I finish this review, after dozens of listens to Uphill Both Ways, as a true believer, and I encourage her to keep it up.
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