Published Dec 03, 2015Jenny Berkel — like her sister Kay and their frequent collaborator Daniel Romano — is a quintessential Americana performer. But while those other two country crooners steep their songs in the genre's traditions until those tunes sound warmly nostalgic, Jenny Berkel's latest release is instead more abstract and less accessible. And that makes it all the more daring and exciting.
Dubbed Cicada, the new EP's six tunes are minimalistic and subtle. The release opens with "How Red the Bloom," which begins with a warbling drone that sounds organic and archaic, liked an aged gospel organ, until electric hisses permeate its notes, making the listener wonder whether or not they're instead hearing vintage electronica (turns out that the instrument is indeed a synthesiser, played by Ian Kehoe of Marine Dreams). That ambiguity carries throughout the track, as Berkel sings about a "memory of something good" amongst drizzling acoustic strums that are emphasized by thunderclap drums.
"Pale Moon," one of the EP's closing tracks, is much less opaque; chalk that up to the liltingly high singing that Jenny has reserved for this song, helping her evoke Celtic folk over whisper-gentle acoustic guitar strums. "Love is a Dark Thing" is even more straightforwardly catchy, with a trotting tempo on the verses that bursts into a full on gallop for the plugged-in folk-rock chorus, becoming the EP's most upbeat moment by far. That mellow-brisk dynamic, and the smouldering tone that Berkel takes on while singing this song, make it sound like a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac demo. Midway track "All That You Do" is more smoothly subdued but, like "Love is a Dark Thing," it also evokes the rich warmth of a '70s studio.
Despite that immaculate sheen, "All That You Do," is an acoustic live cut, which is but one of the many testaments to Jenny Berkel's deftly nuanced, assuredly offbeat talents, which are all on full display throughout this quirky, must-own EP. (Independent)