Wednesday, June 13, 2012


If you've read No Expiration for a while, you know that I generally am suspicious of trends;  I don't buy into  indie-rock's generally sexless songwriting, or its amateur-sounding production. So, when I first listened to Jenn Grauer's A Million Fires, it was really a breath of fresh air. It's pretty clear from listening to this music that Grauer has some musical training: both as a piano player and as a singer.  And if she doesn't, well, she's practiced.  A lot.  She puts thought into every lyric, every note, and the production.  The album has a timeless sound: it could have been recorded in the '70s, but then, it could have been recorded in the '90s. It's a collection of heartfelt songs that is sure to connect with an audience.

But, you may ask, what does she sound like?  Laura Nyro would be an obvious reference: there's also a physical resemblance.  I'd also mention Joni Mitchell.  Like Joni, you get the impression that Grauer has blinders to whatever is going on in pop culture (this is a good thing), and that she is confident that she knows her own path.  But there's also some blues in there.  Not so much the Clapton guitar solo blues:  more of the dusty, old, Robert Johnson/Bessie Smith strain of blues.

The album kicks off with "Stay."  A sad song of someone grasping at a relationship as it is slipping away.  It's not weepy. It's sorrowful on an operatic level: "Did you see right through me," she asks.  "Won't you come back?" she wails.  Most breakup songs have a "depressed" sound, as if the singer has been medicated.1v Grauer really makes you feel the loss, and you know she's feeling it.

"Round & Round" has a bit more swagger.  She sings in a mocking tone, "Needed to be free, needed to be free." What hurts more than having the person you want to commit to decide that he or she needs to be "free?" This time, you get the sense that the narrator, singing "Round and round, come back to me/round and round but first be free," may not be there when the subject comes back.  She's getting over it.

"Soldier Song" might not be out of place on Occupy This Album, although it doesn't mention politics. It's not about the horror of war as much as it's about the sadness and confusion of a soldier.  The narrative isn't so much about "right" and "wrong."  It's more about someone who is tired -- exhausted -- and wants to go home. The piano rolls don't convey violence, just dread.  "Soldier Song Reprise" ends the album and picks up the pace of the original version; the slower take seems to be a better fit for the lyrics.

"A Million Fires," the title track and album's centerpiece is pretty intense.  See the video here.  To give it some context, it's Grauer at her most "Tori," which I mean as a compliment as I am a big fan of Tori Amos.  "Song Unsung" is the song that most closely resembles a "hit," albeit a hit from the '70s Laurel Canyon scene.  I mean that in a good way of course!   "The Gathering" has almost a cabaret feel. Cynics might read that statement and detect kitch, but Grauer sings as if it's a new style.

It's a solid collection of songs: that said, my favorite Jenn Grauer song is not from this album.  "Do You Call This Love?" is a great modern blues.   It sounds like something you might have heard in a smokey club with a dirt floor in the '40s or '50s.  She has a great video for that one also, watch it here.

I definitely look forward to what she'll do next.  I have to give the full disclosure here:  I know Jenn, we've chatted about music a few times. But I like to think that I've established a certain amount of trust on No Expiration, and you guys know that I wouldn't write about someone if I didn't actually like the music. In Jenn's case, I stand behind it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Went out to youtube and watched her music videos. The music is very addictive in a good sense. Her vocals bring you into the music and wish there was more than just a few tunes to enjoy. Am now awaiting the arrival of her cd I purchased.

Roger in Kansas