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Jenny Queen - Girls Who Cry Need Cake

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 25 / 3 / 2004



Jenny Queen - Girls Who Cry Need Cake
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD

intro

Stunning debut album from musical newcomer, but veteran of the school of hard knocks Jenny Queen, who seems immediately destined to enter the first league of alt. country female singer-songwriters


We’ve come to expect any album released under the Laughing Outlaw banner to be something special by now. But there is a pattern emerging. Out of all the small gems they release each year (and there have been many) there is always one which shines that little bit more, which stands head and shoulders above everything else released that year; previous winners of this honour have been the Hired Guns and Spike Priggen. This year it’s obviously Ohio born but Sydney- based Jenny Queen. Any record label, not just Laughing Outlaw, is going to have to really come up with something special if Jenny’s debut album is to be beaten from the number one spot at the end of year top albums list. It’s the voice which strikes home first. It’s so familiar but so hard to pin point exactly where it’s been heard before. There are so many female vocalists treading the same boards as Jenny right now; that Americana folk/ country sound with a smooth pop element but this really is the album which glows strongest amongst them all. It’s got everything that is missing from its contemporaries and a voice that can, and has, melted hearts. There’s innocence and naivety to it, The closest comparison is probably that of 10,000 Maniacs Natalie Merchant but even that doesn’t do it the justice it deserves. But that naivety is misleading. One listen to Jenny’s lyrics shows that this girl has had a few knocks in her life and she has a neat way of articulating them into strong, melodic songs. She’s a storyteller and her nearest contemporary lyrically would have to be Lucinda Williams. It’s almost frightening to think, that as Williams is now turning out her best work to date (along with Emmylou Harris) at an age when most female singer/songwriters are past their peak, what the younger Queen will be coming up with in years to come. This album is, quite frankly, far too good to be a debut. This sounds like the work of someone who has worked at their art for years. Maybe she has. In that case it’s a crime that it’s taken so long for Jenny to get a record deal. For every female singer/songwriter who has made it to the first division (Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams) there are twice as many who are still struggling to get the recognition they deserve although their fan base is growing with every release (Amy Rigby, Lucy Kapalansky) and for every one of those they are dozens more struggling to get any recognition at all (Erica Smith, Dawn Kinnard, the list is almost endless). On the showing of this debut album Jenny Queen is going to fly straight into that first division. There is little doubt that her career that is going to take off with this album. It’s not going to be three albums in before people sit up and take notice, This is the one to do it. Queen has it all. That voice which is so impressive, the lyrics which belie her youthful looks, the way she can pull a stunning melody so effortlessly out of the air (with 9 co-writes on offer here it seems that way at least) and the neat package Laughing Outlaw has dressed the album in. Queen is very photogenic and the cover shot of her sitting in a corner surrounded by cake and balloons looking lost, lonely and abandoned sums up the contents of the album. The ‘Nudie’s’ clothing label in the inlay. The best logo Laughing Outlaw have come up with yet on the actual CD. It all adds up to an exceptional package. It all feels, and looks, so right. With the exception of one cover version Queen wrote all of the lyrics on the album, with co-composer Sam Shinazzi (who wrote all of the music with Queen) helping out on a couple of songs lyrically and on one song, ’66 Days’, which we will return to later, Chris Newton and Scott Collins have a hand in both music and lyrics. Normally on an album which has its roots in country / folk it’s either the lyrics which are particularly strong or the melodies. It’s rare to hear an album where, on first listen, both the lyrics and melodies capture the attention from the off. From the very first track, ‘Drowning Slowly’, which opens with what sounds like some backwards guitar but is probably something else, it’s obvious we’ve stumbled onto something special. When those vocals come in, sounding hurt and bruised on this tale of lost love and finding solace in the rain they are nothing more than stunning. It’s like this is the album all those who have a weakness for female singer / songwriters have been waiting for. There’s the right amount of that pop element mixed in with the country feel. It just feels so right. The production by Tony Buchen (from the unlikely source of Sydney drum and bass outfit The Baggsmen) is spot on. It was an inspired but unusual choice of producer but Buchen has graced these songs with a sympathetic production. The songs are not over produced but certainly not stripped right back either and thankfully there are no vocal histrionics from Queen. The line in that first track where Queen sings “I hear you’ve got a new girl, and she’s not a thing like me” is heartbreaking. It’s touches like that where Buchen’s production really shines. There’s no fussy backing to take away the impact of those words. The music all but fades during those lines and it has a stunning effect. It’s not just the first track which is amazing either. The second song, ‘Due South’ with its theme of lovers who are going to run away from it all until it goes wrong is just as strong lyrically and is blessed with another gorgeous melody. From what I can tell Queen is 26 or thereabouts and it would be difficult (not least given her looks!) to believe that these songs are autobiographical. Over acoustic guitar the song opens with Queen again sounding understandably hurt singing “And that time your girlfriend showed up, so you made me hide in a back room”. Has the girl really been given a bad deal by so many men? It’s seems unlikely but true or not, Queen will have you believing the stories in her songs and you’ll always end up on her side. This song must rate as one of the most touching and beautiful love gone wrong songs of all time. While driving away to find that place “where everything feels okay” Queen sounds so wounded as she sings lines like “You never offered me directions while you were screwing up my life” and “I can’t remember how everything broke down, I suppose in the usual way” it’s enough to make the hardest heart melt. The aforementioned ’66 Days’ appears as track 3 and if I really had to choose just one track as the highlight of this album, at the time of writing at least, this would be the one. It would be a difficult choice as really all the songs are so strong and there is no filler on this album but with the warm sound of the Hammond B3 and Queen’s multi-tracked vocals sounding like a choir of angels on the chorus of “So this is how it feels to know it’s really over” it really is stunning. Again as the music drops away from the last few times Queen sings that line you know she is right; this is how it feels. The following song, ‘Lullabye For A Ghost’, is a slight change from the previous tracks. Taken at a slower pace and with strings and "junk percussion" adding to the atmosphere, Jenny’s vocals this time, although still clear, have a sadness to them, she almost mumbles the tale about being left on her own again but this time with a twist, with the ghost in her house not sleeping she’s certainly “not lonely no more”. Next up is the cover version; Moby’s ‘Porcelain’. As with the choice of producer it’s a totally unexpected selection. And again, it works. It shouldn’t, a Moby song covered on what could be classed an. Alt. country album, should be a disaster but Queen makes it her own and with Buchen’s inspired production and some lovely dobro from John Carr the track really is transformed into a thing of beauty. As I said, all the songs are stunning and deserve a mention but the sparse, acoustic ballad ‘Between The Riverbank And The Highway’, a poignant tale of homesickness, “Sometimes I go walking by myself and make believe I’m somewhere else", is particularly touching and shows another side to the talents of Queen as does the closing song, ‘Ten Feet Tall’. With just piano and cello, courtesy of Deepika Bryant, Queen sounds like she is falling apart “And I feel like I’m nothing at all” … “And I wonder do you miss me?” delivered in that hurt and affecting voice. The strangest thing about this album is that although for the main part the songs deal with loves lost and being somewhere one doesn’t want to be and despite the fact that Queen does have that naivety and pain in her voice she doesn’t come across as being fragile. One gets the impression that she’s a tough cookie that you wouldn’t particularly want to cross which is curious given the nature of the songs. If the overcrowded female singer / songwriter genre is beginning to loose some of it’s attraction for you then give Jenny Queen’s debut a listen. But be prepared to fall in love, this girl has got it all.



Track Listing:-
1 Drowning Slowly
2 Due South
3 66 Days
4 Lullabye for a Ghost
5 Porcelain
6 Kentucky Turn
7 Between the Riverbank and the Highway
8 End of the Line
9 Maybe the Moon
10 Ten Feet Tall


Label Links:-
http://www.laughingoutlaw.com.au/
https://www.facebook.com/laughingoutlawrecordsandmanagement
https://laughingoutlaw.bandcamp.com/



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