Jane & Gord, |
The Blue Madonna
The Blue Madonna opens with a bit of a jolt. The first song falls in careful notes around the charity mission, pulling the listener without warning into the grey comfort of "The Blue Madonna." The lyrics, poetic and smooth without being manipulative, weave the story of the mission with the history of its residents and founders in a way that makes the unseen building feel warm and living. Jane Eamon delivers the lyrics with an air of pained resignation echoed by the sighing harmonica. Eamon and Gord Brush make their guitars echo the pattering rain of a grey fall day to fall on the eaves of the building "outside the social confines of this town."
"The Blue Madonna" is something of an aberration on its own album; only "Heartbreak Train" and "Possibilities" match it for lyricism or scope. "Heartbreak Train" is a set of brief vignettes around the passengers on the sad journey. Stories of broken old age and desperate childhood are painted in broad outlines that leave the grim details intriguingly vague. The visiting harmonica lends a fitting atmosphere of hobo blues to the tune. "Possibilities" only concerns itself with one woman's fate, but she wanders a world while she goes through her options. The plodding beat of "Possibilities" catches the paralysis of indecision; Brush's voice, adding some background vocals for the first time, adds a rough echo to Eamon's steady low voice while giving the song an appropriately divided sound. Eamon's voice has a certain inherent somberness that shapes it perfectly to these thoughtful songs, a kind of patient distress that makes distress tangible without becoming melodramatic.
The rest of Blue Madonna is weighted towards more standard love and romance songs. "Why Can't We Learn to Let It Be" breaks away from the simpler guitar and harmonica instrumentals with an overlaying saxophone that feels too seductive for this story of a relationship failing in spite of itself. Broken love stumbles its way through "Peace Tonight," a song that seems to follow the unhappy couple a few months down the road and into the painful realms where lovers can still hurt each other without being able to mend any of the damage. "Making Believe" flirts with country-western that unfortunately does nothing to make this wistful lament of dying romance stand out from the others. "Take My Hand" is a more successful departure from Jane & Gord's usual acoustic style, turning decisively towards gospel for inspiration.
"Edible Love Song" is a bright silly piece, shaping its somewhat disturbing food based metaphor to light hearted ends. Only "When You Do That Thing You Do" approaches the playfulness of "Edible Love Song," as the narrating lover rejoices in the small gestures and easy joys of a love that feels comfortable with itself. The earnestness of Eamon's voice makes it a somewhat odd fit for these lighter pieces. Her voice never feels oppressive or strained, but it gives these whimsical songs an anchoring heaviness they otherwise lack.
Jane & Gord have the unusual trait of handling painful, complicated subjects with more grace than they do simple, trite sentiments. The heavier and clumsier the subject, the more graceful their performance. Their guitars carry the soft, almost comfortable feel of intense emotions worn out through daily use. Eamon's voice settles into her graceful lyrics and deceptively unassuming melodies, and Brush is as integral and invisible to the duo's sound as air is to the spoken word. Visits to The Blue Madonna are with the heartache to hear them in action.