Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Good . . . but not good enough
Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens' self-titled album should have made my top 2004 album lists. It should have on the basis of Gear's live shows and her television performances (she was one of the 2003 Canadian Idol finalists). Gear is blessed with a gorgeous and powerful voice. In the live setting, her voice ranges from a deep bass all the way up to the higher notes of the scale. Her strength is in jazz-styled songs, though live, one might think she could do no wrong regardless of what she's singing. Given the right tools in the studio and the right songs (this album sees her performing 11 songs by various Newfoundland songwriters), it's not hard to imagine that she could create something quite amazing that would rank her amongst other great female voices in music. Understandably, not all of the tools were at her disposal, as the album was recorded at her grandmother's house on a tight budget. However, one can remain hopeful that Gear would still exercise her vocal range to a similar degree as she does in the live setting.
Unfortunately, this didn't happen. Gear's choice in songs is interesting, but some of them just aren't that good (lyrically and otherwise). They don't demand anything of the singer other than a basic reading of the lyrics, and it seems obvious that Gear's focus was not on the voice, but simply trying to get the songs out as easily as she could.
The one saving grace on the album is the song "Away" by Newfoundland legend Ron Hynes. I have many complaints about Hynes' studio work (based on the limited recordings that I've heard). He should be a world renowned songwriter based on his lyrics alone (the guy seriously rivals the best with his storytelling abilities and perspectives), but sadly, he ventured into the new country field when entering the studio, and the albums I've heard are unlistenable. However, Gear's version of this song is stripped down to basics, and is one of the few times on her album where everything comes together beautifully.
Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens is an album that sees Gear and co. move through songs like any other folk singer, and if this was all you heard by Gear, you'd think she has a good, but not great, voice. The album is at times interesting, but overall it's inessential.

*** Note: for those who used the previous link to read the article, you'll notice that I gave a very glowing review both to Gear's talents and her album. I think the above criticism comes from hearing the album quite a bit since writing that interview, and also from thinking about the fact that Gear had the chance to make something really great, and instead made something good. Or to be more succinct, nice.
posted by Jonathan


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