Jennie Stearns,
Mourning Dove Songs
(Porchbone, 2000)

Sometimes when you listen to some music all you can say is "Oh shit, this is good." With Mourning Dove Songs, Jennie Stearns offers up music that earns so strong a response. The music blends jazz and folk to the point where it is both. That the CD was recorded live is icing on the cake.

The music on this CD is incredible. The musicians in the band do an amazing job. They are Rich Stearns (tenor guitar and vocals), Bill King (drums), Mary Lorson (harmony vocals), Sim Redmond (bass), Chad Crumm (violin) and Jeb Puryear (pedal steel on "Step into the Picture"). Jennie Stearns plays the acoustic guitar and sings. Her voice is magic, slightly smoky, sliding into the music and making it hers.

There is a sorrow in these songs that is hard to explain ... a softness in the music, sometimes in the lyrics themselves. Whatever the source, there is a darkness here that is beautiful, it pulls you in and embraces you.

The CD slides in gracefully with the opening notes of "Georgia Pine," which waltzes to a wistful tune, evoking faded pictures of people you knew without ever meeting. The sorrow widens with "Madness," where the music and lyrics paint a picture of relationships falling apart, of people being hurt.

Then comes "Southern Winds," a soothing song that calls you to rest, to healing. There is a gentleness and warmth in the music that floats over the steady beat of the drums. "Knoxville Girl (Parting Gift)" is a story told in stages, each part a brief sketch.

"Angel with a Broken Wing" is a song of quiet searching, a call to reach out to a broken wounded girl. There is more longing in the lyrics than hope. "Mystery" is a song of remembrance of sorrow or loss, of a question that was never answered.

"Shame" is a song of falling and hitting the ground. The driving beat of the music keeps the sorrow at bay, but even then, there is a sense of falling slowly backwards. I can't quite piece together the story in "Prisoner" -- but, nonetheless, there is a haunting edge to the music.

"Perfect Sky" comes in, and you can almost hear it cut across the dance floor, sliding back and forth. There is a hard edge to its gracefulness that fades in and out. Both it and "Step into the Picture" are love songs. "Step into the Picture" is a waltz to the tango of "Perfect Sky."

The CD ends off where it started, with an instrumental version of "Georgia Pines." Or you could say it ends with one last dance to bring the night to a close.

Mourning Dove Songs dances you into the dark night and then on to the edge of dawn. The songs might not always be easy to listen to but they are always good. You will like what you hear.

[ by Paul de Bruijn ]
Rambles: 20 August 2001

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