Jennifer Noxon,
Sweet
(self-produced, 2001)

Sometimes it's helpful to get another perspective.

For instance, take Jennifer Noxon's Sweet. What few doubts I had that Sweet, the 2001 release from the Canadian singer-songwriter, was a special work, I lost when my wife borrowed the disc well before I'd worked up a coherent review of it. While she's grown blase toward the seemingly endless piles of music circulating through our residence, Noxon's Sweet had her hooked after only a few tracks, and once I'd reclaimed it, I could understand why.

Noxon's vocals and songwriting take center stage on Sweet, and both are up to the challenge. Her clear, nuanced voice can be both powerful and subtle without sounding forced or overly affected, and she produces some gorgeous harmonies here as well, acting as her own backup vocalist via multitrack recording. Lyrically, Noxon writes about a famous artist, a seasonal change, the experience of travel and more, all while steering clear of an overly weighty tone. Noxon's words are easygoing and conversational in tone but penned with a unique poetic slant. Using a generic first-person narrative or assuming miscellaneous personas, from a too-young Irish immigrant to a too-old African-American reading student, Noxon's variety keeps these songs fresh and interesting. She also explores ideas such as the oft-neglected value of giving up and letting go, but again such intellectual explorations never seem overwhelming or preachy.

The music itself ranges from simple acoustic folk to folk-rock, with variants on bluegrass and country. Noxon's guitar is supported by a talented and diverse group of musicians, playing at various points everything from electric guitar and organ to harmonium and congas, whatever might be required to support the musical diversity. The excellent "Springtime in Paris" here could almost be a Lori Carson song, with its delicate atmospheric instrumentation and its focus on gentle nuanced singing over obvious hooks or catchy choruses. "Everyday," with its bouncy sing-song vocal delivery, makes a surprisingly credible stab at alternative pop. On the other hand, "A Matter of Degrees" is equally effective as a quiet, minimalistic folk tune, featuring only Noxon and Christine Graves on background vocals and frame drum.

Depending on your musical tastes, you may find songs like "David Hockney" and "Literate at Last" so precious that listening to them can become a tooth-aching experience. Still, one person's dessert is another's saccharine overdose. During some particularly effective passages of these tracks, even my cynicism recedes under the spell of Noxon's voice, a fact that certainly provides some gauge of their effectiveness.

In short, Sweet is the kind of work that you're compelled to pass on to like-minded friends, knowing that they will thank you for the introduction. Using a range of topics, musical subgenres and songwriting styles, Noxon achieves excellence with a coherent approach that still provides a variety of musical and lyrical points of view.

And sometimes, as with my wife's early approval, those additional perspectives are exactly what we need to find clarity and joy.

- Rambles
written by Ken Fasimpaur
published 1 March 2003