Released over here a year after it originally saw the light if day in the US Essie Jain,s debut album is far too singular and enigmatic to become a mainstream success. Which is a shame as the London raised singer/songwriter is exactly the sort of talent that should be selling lots of albums. Not only did Essie Jain write all the songs on the album she recorded and produced (With Patrick Glynn) as well as playing piano, bass and acoustic guitar. And like most high-quality female singers she sings in a clear unaffected way .Her voice is higher range -though it can dip and veer across a pretty wide span- but it's the lack of asinine affectation , so prevalent in many of today's female singers (Leona Lewis is the latest to join the Mariah, Celine , Whitney academy of caterwauling) that means listening to her sing is a pleasure. The music is minimal, something that is even alluded to by the one word song titles. Often it's just that voice and lonely piano, or plucked guitar notes but there is augmentation provided by lap steel , cello, violin ,viola, accordion, French horn , with percussion breaking out on a four tracks. It's a little too frugal at times for my taste and by that I mean the album lacks a little variety but when the medium finds a song strong enough like on the beautiful cello laden "Give" it's truly captivating. "I'm not hopeless" she sings with forlorn splendour on "Understand" before the icily pretty piano of "Loaded" -where the vocals are multi tracked to eerie effect and the isolated waltz time strums of "No Mistake". "Glory" is the only track where the vocals are really stretched to magnificent effect but "Haze" has clever vocal interplay with the use of the multi-tracking and the percussion . On "Sailor" the vocal overdubbing reaches it's zenith while on "Talking " she signs "You gotta be kidding me" over plump piano notes. We Made This Ourselves is an out of the ordinary frugal riposte to the plethora of male singer songwriters cluttering the place up but it is also an icy retort to the hordes of strident female artists who are also cluttering the place up . Some times in order to stand out and get noticed it,s better step back and let silence and tranquillity drift among the clattering detritus. I ,m not suggesting Essie Jain made music like this to get noticed but if this softly compelling music has the effect of winning her many new admirers so much the better. It should , and I am proud to call myself one of them. Most definitely not hopeless.
Essie Jain is English, but has been based in NYC for most of her twenties, a decade that's just running out for her as she releases this gloriously glacial debut. Released last year in the States, it's now getting a worldwide re-release in advance of her upcoming second set The InBetween, due in May.
The star of these songs is Jain's voice, multitracked into harmonising strands and twisted around her melodies like Celtic knotwork. Certain benighted reviewers from across the pond have likened this instrument to that of the young Julie Andrews, but in fact this porcelain blonde betrays much more sensuality and far more melancholy than that wholesome lady ever did. On opener "Glory" she comes on like a folkier, fifties-influenced Peggy Lee, but on the beautiful "Sailor" the temperature drops and the music freezes into Jack Frost crystal traceries which are so coldly beautiful, they burn.
If you enjoyed P J Harvey's most recent album "White Chalk", you'll connect instantly with these songs. There's a plangent yearning in them, restrained, graceful, somehow old fashioned and very female. Accompanied with droning, minimalist strings, piano, wispy guitar or barely-there percussion, this is music which feels as though it contains far more than it willingly displays on its surface. The impatient will brush it away as boring or merely pretty. Delve deeper, though, and a wonderfully understated aesthetic reveals itself - rich, various and wistfully solemn as a tolling bell.
I have just bought this cd because it was recommended by a friend in America, where it is published and where it has had plenty of excellent reviews. I too, have been completely mezmerized listening to it. Such tenderness in each tone, such simplicity that fills everything. Each instrument clear and close, but the best thing is the lyrics. Essie Jain has a way with words that makes you listen and wonder. What a treat. I love it!