Jane Fallon,
Gemini Rising in a Patchwork Sky
(independent, 2010)

There's nothing like settling in on a chilly night with a mug of tea and snuggling up under a warm quilt; if you don't have a quilt, however, or it's too warm and you're just looking for the aural equivalent, you might want to pick up Jane Fallon's new CD.

The New Hampshire singer-songwriter has created a lovely patchwork of music on Gemini Rising in a Patchwork Sky, a collection of songs that stitches itself together note by note and warms the soul.

Fallon tries out a variety of styles on Gemini Rising, all filtered through her gentle folk sensibility and her warm, welcoming voice. Sometimes the songs don't quite make it, as on the maudlin "Don't Forget to Forgive Me," which tries just a bit too hard to excuse a woman's wandering heart by laundry-listing all the sacrifices she's made for her husband, and on the well-intentioned but somewhat patronizing "Run," which comes close to doing for world music what Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops did for disco. However, these are minor blips on the radar -- or just a couple of off-color patches in the quiltwork, if you prefer -- and they don't detract much from what is a very strong album.

Fallon's work shines brightest when it allows her wit and natural storytelling ability to show through, as on the stellar opening track, "Give Me Grace," the tale of a hardscrabble life and the man who lived it, and his prayers to heaven for a little grace to get him through. The swinging "Money's Gone Blues" is immense fun, stacked with one great line on top of another ("See that car out in my driveway? / It could not turn over if its name was 'Apple' "). "Battles" takes the concept of thinking globally and acting locally to its best, most logical extension. "Blue Dress" is a sweet story-song about lovers and unkept secrets.

The CD closes on two very different, very strong songs. First is the gentle, musing title track, a mediation on the zodiac that manages to be informative, self-effacing and compelling all at once -- it drew me in and I have little or no regard for horoscopes, so that should tell you something right there. And the final song, the slow, smoldering, bluesy "Heaven Can't Help You," is a dark cautionary tale, a lament that takes the familiar tropes of the blues -- sacrifice, hard times, money disappearing -- and if not makes them new, then at least shines them up to a fine glow. The final verse takes those tropes and turns them outward, ending not on another chorus of "heaven can't help you," but of "heaven better help us." And despair becomes prayer, just as it did in "Give Me Grace" ... and the circle closes. It's a nice little touch that the album starts and ends with similar sentiments, almost like the repeated pattern of a well-made quilt.

Fallon is ably assisted by her backup musicians, especially multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry and harmony vocalist Mally Smith -- and Fallon's production work, assisted by Henry and Jeff Root -- is exemplary. The instruments are all crisp and clear in the mix, and Fallon's voice is front and center. She does good work all around, and it pays off for her. If you like good folk music, it'll pay off for you, too.

music review by
Jay Whelan

25 September 2010

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