Music Review: Jenn Grant - The Beautiful Wild

I'm such a fan-boy. I just love to hear Jenn Grant sing, and her unique voice takes me to a very peaceful place. It's the specific tone I guess, the character of her voice. Also, its her particular use of melisma. Oop, sorry for the technical term, don't want to go all Mr. Music Reviewer on you, it's just that that particular word has become almost a bad thing over the past few years in pop. Blame the Whitney-Maria-Christina crowd. They do that thing where they sing several notes over one syllable, that "I-EEE-I-EEE-I will always love you-ooo--oooo". That's melisma. It got mistaken as grand singing, everybody was doing it, and finally everybody got sick of it. Around this point, the term melisma got its bad rep.

Well, that's not fair to one little word, and there's nothing wrong with actual melisma, it's how you do it. And Jenn Grant does it wonderfully. It's natural for her to sing this way, and it's done with control and beauty, at the softest moments, not the loudest, not forcing it for show. It is, simply, beautiful. She doesn't overdo it either. Just two, three, maybe four quavers, and not all the time.

There, I've spent two paragraphs talking just about one part of her singing, and not even getting into this gem of a new album. The first cut, The Fighter, supplies the album title, and comes in so wonderfully, with Old Man Luedecke's banjo plucks so haunting, join by Aaron Goldstein's pedal steel, and later Kinley Dowling's sweet fiddle. I've Got Your Fire, with its strong drums mixed to the fore, tinkling piano, and more mystery in the story of the woman we meet. Grant's voice, doubled and echoed and layered, becomes a major instrument here as well, the sound of it more important than the words in creating the mood. As with most of the sounds, even the most playful and bubbly, there's an implied melancholy, a notion that life is sweet even in its tough and emotional times.

Great kudos to producer Daniel Ledwell of course. The atmosphere he creates, the blend of Grant's voice with the instruments, and the arrangement of all the segments is so inventive. There are so many examples of great choices of instruments and voices, a harp here, a bass harmonica there, a sitar, real choirs, a surprise male voice answering Grant in a chorus; I mean, you have to think up this stuff at some point in the production. And the mixing! Again, so many smart and different choices of where to place her voice in the landscape of sound.

Now, I do have a problem with one cut, and I probably shouldn't bring it up, as it's one of those hidden tracks at the end, not listed on the cover. But it hurts my ears. I don't know why Grant thought her solo piano version of Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger would be a fitting end to the experience. What am I missing? Is there some great ironic statement here? Does it fit the theme somehow? Is it actually a fantastic lyric when stripped of its infamous 80's production? Is it a grand joke, or meant to deflate the seriousness of the disc? I think it's a piece of crap no matter who sings it, and actually infuriates me its on there, since I love the rest of The Beautiful Wild so much. Does it bug me more, because I had to endure it for about eight months of hit status in 1982. Maybe you'll get a kick out of it, I don't know. Really, I shouldn't have brought it up. Too late.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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