Clarity dominates this six song EP “Firefly in a Jar” by Award-winning singer-songwriter Jenny Bruce.
Up first is a warm, distinctive song with shades of early Joni Mitchell, but Jenny has a deeper voice on this introduction to the touching and imaginative song “Complicated Hearts.” A well-balanced vocal with sudden high notes, warm enduring lines and breathy sincerity whispered into the microphone with expertise. This is probably ideal wearing good headphones. Jenny has that type of voice. There are moments her folk music drifts into haunting notes. She sounds as if she is singing to the dusk seated on a stone wall overlooking the sea, alone. Her voice is resounding and stirring at times.
Jenny’s been in the business since 1997 so she is no greenhorn and she has shared the stage with many name artists. So, let’s just say she’s a seasoned performer. And you know what good seasonings do to a salad or a steak. It’s going to taste marvelous…and you will go back for more. I did.
Staying within the mood her second track “Backlit Bottles,” is a little funkier. The light piano touch and heavy thud of drums compliment each other in a modern folk tradition. Jenny is borderline rapping – but, too clever to get caught in that genre. Her melody is strong and again her reliable voice has fluency and it captivates just enough not to be too fleecy. The image of “backlit bottles,” is quite clever. The third track is the title track: “Firefly in a Jar,” and the acoustic guitar picking stimulates – it all comes from a deep well of inspiration. Her voice will remind you of other female vocalists but Jenny has a certain originality to her circuitry that runs through her presentation. It is anchored in her own tightly arranged and formal style. Like “backlit bottles,” the image of “fireflies in a jar” -- compelling stuff. Easy to continue the tradition and with so many places to go with that kind of approach: "diamond rain on early morning spider webs," "beads of sweat on sleeping babies," "hidden love notes on misty morning mirrors," "cotton clouds rise from redbrick chimneys," -- great titles to work from. Fancy, seldom used subject matter to set a song's stimulating lift.
“Here,” begins with Jenny’s voice in a higher register. Nice piano support to diversify her sound from her acoustic guitar. The lyrics are economical, but they each possess well-disciplined melodic words. This melody swims with grace, no splash, no kick – just a smooth glide with pensive development. Quite a beautiful song and one would have to have a silky smooth tone as Jenny Bruce has to get it over.
Jenny’s approach seems to have a certain prestige that unravels with each tune. “Change,” – written by the veteran folk singer Holly Knight is covered here by Jenny with tasteful playing, powerful vocals and a polished presentation. Jenny’s band includes Ms. Bruce on vocals, piano and acoustic guitar with Matt Anthony sharing duties on acoustic guitar. Electric guitars are by Mr. Anthony except for the chunky electric guitar on track one “Complicated Hearts,” which is played by Jenny herself. Miscellaneous instruments are by Matt Anthony who also produced this collection.
The closing song “Giving Up the Ghost,” displays Jenny’s finest vocals. Breathy, high notes, all with a shimmering presence. This is my favorite song.
It is just so captivating and mindful of a great, strong, female singer-songwriter from England – Kit Hain. Ms. Hain has a song on MySpace Music called “Waiting for the Gypsies,” which is absolutely incredible vocally. She had other marvelous songs that remind me of how colorful Ms. Bruce is presenting her own work. Kit's “Awakening Again,” (a similar Jenny Bruce piano played tastefully – both of these women display a potency in their songs and arrangements that is stunning), and “Parting Would Be Painless.”
Ms. Hain is not entirely unknown in the music business. Her “Parting Would Be Painless,” “Fallen Angel” “Ready for Love,” & “Looking for You,” – all covered by The Who’s Roger Daltry on his solo albums. Ms. Hain has also been covered by many international artists.
Jenny sounds as if she has not yet let loose with all the wonderful music and stories she has bottled up inside her. There is a sense of restraint in some of the performance – not a bad thing. But it makes me wonder that Jenny has much more to offer. That she is a diversified artist, a cautious artist and someone who does have a prolific library of ideas.
My anxiety is hinged on the fact that five of Jenny’s songs – are actually just samples since it’s not a full album. The songs have a beauty to them that would prompt me to return to Jenny. But, the last song – “Giving Up the Ghost,” – that one is just simply not a song that is long enough for me. It keeps tugging at my ear if not loitering in my ear. I hear now wherever I go. Jenny tempts me with that Kit Hain flavor – I say Kit Hain again because I have so much respect for Ms. Hain and for her talent and consistency as a female singer-songwriter, that for someone else – Jenny Bruce specifically -- to touch that level of music. Well, my appreciation sparkles and my faith in Jenny is authentic.
If I had to advise Jenny Bruce about what path to follow it would be to just continue as she has done. With a little emphasis on more songs that have the integrity of “Giving Up the Ghost,” in that fascinating vocal blend. That tone alone is exhilarating. And the best compliment I can offer is that while Jenny does have a few similarities to some other female vocalists (all available on YouTube) – she does have her own original tendencies that work quite effectively and well for her. Jenny exemplifies many diversified styles: Julianna Raye (“In My Time”), Heather Nova (“London Rain,” “Heart and Shoulder,” & “Like Lovers Do,”), Kris McKay (“If Ever You Need Me,”), Angela Kaset (“Keeping the Wolves Away”) and Judy Tzuke, who has countless songs in this genre. These are the women Jenny Bruce shares her ingenuity and creativeness with. Are they as famous as Taylor Swift? Madonna? Britney Spears? No.
The women I cite here are not entertainers – they are singer-songwriters who approach artistry. Jenny Bruce is an artist.
With a little luck, patience and perseverance her music may very well outlast the entertainers. I could have thrown in people like the marvelous Eleanor McEvoy as well – who’s song “Only A Woman’s Heart,” is now a classic song…a brilliant song…a moving song. Covered by top tier female artists worldwide. Jenny Bruce has this inspirational thread in her soul. You can hear it in the six songs she has teased us with.
If she embraces the quality of work done by Eleanor McEvoy, Kris MacKay, and Kit Hain – she will impress other singers to the degree where she will be a highly respected songwriter, as well as, singer. All of which, she already is. It’s a value-added. Many people in the audience don’t take music as seriously as many of us. But, when an artist like Jenny strikes the right emotional chord – doors open. Ears open. Hearts open. A singer, when in doubt – just needs to write something that reaches into the heart.
Jenny Bruce has the keys.
This EP was recorded at Engine Sound in NYC. All songs written by Jenny Bruce except “Change” by Holly Knight
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / July 2016