Nota Bene: This review was originally posted on 2/23/2008, and was my first listen from musician Jenny Dalton. For more information about Dalton’s discography, upcoming shows, among other details, you can visit her official website at jennydalton.com.
Probably my first English album review in a long time, but nonetheless one album that I’m glad to step back into the realm of music review to do so. Jenny Dalton is an artist I came across completely blind-and I realize she’s an independent artist with a MySpace Page and it’s difficult to find her albums in stores (I think you’d have to find them through CDBaby, Schoolkids, or an online distributor…so far I’ve had no luck looking in the standard stores though). She’s another of the artists that I’m following classified as “under the radar”. For most who don’t know who she is or what her music sounds like, she’s a singer-songwriter with piano driven melodies and a vocal/instrumental stylistic similar to Jewel or, more parallel, Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Her music is placid, sweetly toned vocal, yet manages to carry a dark texture within it and sports great lyricism to boot.
Suffice to say, when I heard her first album “Fleur de Lily”-I loved almost every track, and I purchased it directly from Itunes. Granted, if you note for some singer songwriters, they have a tendency to make some tracks cut from the same cloth and it opens it up to criticism (Colbie Calliat is probably the most recent example I can think of, and yes, I’ll post a review of her album when I have the opportunity :P). Each song sounds refreshing, but some do tend to flow in similar progressions, and, unfortunately, it may find its placing weary on some listeners, while others may simply love every song for having such a nice flow and relaxing texture. Her material may remind some, collectively, of the genre she represents; still, she makes it work and distinctly her own.
Album: “Fleur de Lily” by Jenny Dalton (1st album)
Release Date: March 9, 2006
1. At Ease (2:27)
2. Bad Day (3:27)
3. Violet Walk (4:25)
4. Snake Oil (2:46)
5. Three Lilies (4:15)
6. Secrets (4:39)
7. Lily and the Stranger (2:47)
8. My Shape (4:21)
9. Circles (2:19)
10. This Again (3:24)
11. Iraqi Sky (3:32)
12. Joshua (3:01)
13. Cadence (3:35)
First thing to say about Jenny Dalton’s first album is that if you’ve heard of the artists aforementioned before the cut, the collective whole of it may be reminescent of a stylistic you may have heard before. In some circles she’s been compared to other artists such as Vanessa Carlton, a comparison I quite adamantly disagree with despite the similarities in keyboard progression found between both artists. Jenny Dalton’s vocals sound much more refreshing and soft in texture, and she pulls it through with a sincerity much greater than the aforementioned artist. It’d even be better to compare her more with Holly Brook or Beth Waters, as she fits alongside the coat of those two artists as well.
Starting with the first track, and working through each.
1. At Ease: “At Ease” opens the album rather potently, a nice piano driven, dramatic piece that asks the lingering question: “Do you want to go back/Do you want to be free/Or get away from me?” Ironic, because the song title is “At Ease” and paints a portrait of confrontation that goes along with the surging instrumentation that alternates breaking from the stanzas into the chorus. The song ends almost as suddenly as it begins, but it works rather well in its brevity. I wouldn’t say it’s the strongest track the album has to offer, even in its repeating messages, it opens up the album for much more interesting material and creates a lingering impression of what the collective album has to offer. (8.5/10)
2. Bad Day: As simple as the title sounds, this particular song has a rather interesting web of complexity without delving too much into the schematic. This song, unlike the light tonality of the previous track, relies more on the lower register piano keys to create its dramatic effect. There’s a sense of futility communicated in the first part of the song-self reflective and reflective of a significant other, but as Dalton communicates in a sweet, soothing texture: “Let’s see what I can do/But you know there’s gonna be some bad days”, concluding the song in a subtle realism with smooth transition. Definitely a favorite of mine among the collective album, because I could connect with both the message and the songs tonality overall. (9.5/10)
3. Violet Walk: “Violet Walk” made for a pleasant listen, and in a song like this one, it doesn’t have so much of a set communicated message as it does a good job with the imagery and painting a portrait of the events within, something that’s open to interpretation. The song portrays a conflict of one who wants to take someone in (perhaps even to mold them into a set image of perfection-one could look into this as the Chinese interpetation of the term violet or even communicated as a sense of luxorious living), only to meet a harsh resistence. I interpreted the image of violet as a sense of beauty and perfection. Yet, the person resisting Dalton paints, in example from one of the lines of the song “Is there no one to cure your freezer burn?”, a blight against an image/realm of perfection. And as the contrast becomes greater, so does the melody if you look into how the song goes. I loved it, and Dalton’s vocal works so well in marking this contrast, sweetly sung, almost as if her vocal paints the color portrayed in the song. Lovely performance overall. (8.5/10)
4. Snake Oil: Probably the biggest bias I have is that this was the song that introduced me to Jenny Dalton, and thus it marks as my personal pick from the album, and also one of my favorite songs to date. I think her vocal works the best in this song with the melody, even taking it aside from the meaning. The melody is sophisticated, painting the image in my mind of something like you’d hear in a French cafe, and then progressing into a surging rockish melody that paints the undulating emotions in the song. Feelings of self-confliction and inner turmoil, yet presented with such ease, it sounds more soothing than accusatory. If you look into what Snake Oil is (again, another Chinese reference 😉 ), it’s an herbal medicine for joint pain, but it’s also a condescending term for things that have a falsified quality, much like the relationship portrayed in this song. Very well done on a collective note. (9.5/10)
5. Three Lillies: This has quite a distinct religious thematic to it, taking a few lines from a well known prayer (Now I lay me down to sleep…) but instead of sounding preachy or even remotely having overt tones to it, it sounds rather happy go lucky and, like the previous songs, progressively becomes more dramatic before returning to the original progression, her vocal . The references seem further emphasized when Dalton sings “I can’t bring everything to life/my shaman knows I try.” I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite song of the album, but it offers a strong effort from the artist in a similar coat to the collective album, which gives it merit. Is it all that distinct? Yes and no, it follows in the same coat as some of the previous songs, lush and inviting, but unfortunately doesn’t quite take you in and envelop as well as the former songs. Still, I’d say it’s a very nice song nonetheless (8.5/10)
6. Secrets: Dramatic ballad with very little surges, and it relies more in the simplicity of her vocals and the traditional accompaniment. I almost don’t know what to say regarding Secrets because while it’s a good song, it didn’t quite connect with me as much as it could have. Beautiful lyrics and wonderfully sung, but I couldn’t really take much out of the performance as much as it was a standard ballad. I think Emmy Rossum or Sarah Brightman could pull the atmospheric vocal stylistic without much surge on the melodic side, but “Secrets” feels much drier than the aforementioned songs.. I have a feeling that there may be a lot of people who love the simplicity in this song and think it works, but I only could say I couldn’t really connect with it, or perhaps as it is one of the longest songs on the album, it might have come across a little longer than it should have. (7.0/10)
7. Lily and the Stranger: I really liked the tonality of “Lily and the Stranger”, playful yet subdued, and definitely giving off a definite mood, and that’s probably what “Secrets” lacked the most. Thankfully, this track picks up the pace of the album again, in a light, sweet and potently honest perspective with dramatic surges; I like how it tells a succinct story, and the way Dalton sings “La-la-Lily” to give it a folk tale quality. (9.0/10)
8. My Shape: Yet another of my favorite songs from the album, and I’d rank it right along with “Snake Oil” as one of the best songs on the album. My Shape is very symbolic and beautifully written and composed, even down to the opening lines where she sings “…The earth turns slightly crisper/Your warmth is leaving my body..”. Melancholic, yet hopeful, it excels in both getting its message across and also leaving a lasting impression-and it reminds me, probably the most among all the songs on the album, of the influence Tori Amos had on Dalton’s composition in both planes. Beautiful song overall. (9.0/10)
9. Circles: Light, catchy, and sweet melody with a subdued tonality and nice electronic pulses at the tail end, “Circles” had instant appeal to me. If she had a little more soul to her vocal, I could have imagined this song being penned by Sara Bareilles, but at the same time, it carries a heavier meaning, even down to juxtaposing contradictory phrases (“I can’t eat, I can’t sleep/But I already told you that I’m happy this way.”) I like how she plays with the the song title not only in the meaning, but also in the repeating phrases and elements within the song. It’s a pleasant listen, abeit brief. (8.5/10)
10. This Again: “This Again” carries a distinct, dramatic bitterness to it, but in Dalton’s soft vocal, like quite a few of the previous songs, it envelops you more in its honesty in a gentle cloak-the song communicates a relationship gone awry, and the way the arrangement works in this song really drives the emotion home, particularly in the first third of the song when the melody couples her emphasis on the line “somebody else.” Great song overall. (9.0/10)
11. Iraqi Sky: Coupled with the emphasis on quite a few lines she sings, the overall song stands out as perhaps the best song on the album. It gives a rather distinct, and honest perspective without being too dramatic in either melody, lyric, or vocal. I was surprised at how well the arrangement was in this song, not only did it work with Dalton’s vocals, but it also colored it with its combination of strings and piano progression. Definitely a recommended listen, and if you have to choose a song to start out with Dalton’s discography, try this one because it does everything that the strongest tracks on this album do and excels at doing so. (9.5/10)
12. Joshua: I thought that Joshua was an interesting song overall, probably not one of my favorites from the album in its aftermath, but certainly worth the listen in the same way that “At Ease” and “Three Lillies” served in its overall mood. Very nice instrumentation throughout, and while it flows well with Dalton’s vocal, it does have a tendency to over shadow her a bit, even down to the setting of the songs. It may not latch on to the listener immediately, but it fits the album setting very well. (8.0/10)
13. Cadence: “Cadence” actually made the perfect track to round out the album. Like “Secrets”, it takes a similar structure as a ballad, but has more emotion and portrayal in its subtle and quiet settings, progressively becoming more intense and retaining a simple structure throughout. I connected with this song so much more than the former because it doesn’t try too hard and the meshing of her vocal with the melody, while it merges in the last third of the song, works surprisingly well and builds a surge that gradually declines until the last touch of the keys. (9.0/10)
In a final reflection of the album: I’d say it’s a strong debut effort for Jenny Dalton, she makes the collective album work so well in its progression despite a few songs where it slightly drew a bit too long or felt out of place. Most of the songs on “Fleur de Lily” are very strong and well worth the listen, even if it may be from a stylistic that some may find familiar-it’s calm, soothing and refreshingly different than most music that has been produced in the past couple of years. I’d highly recommend it.
Overall score: 8.5/10