Lucid Culture


CD Review: Jenny Scheinman – Self-titled CD

Jenny Scheinman has two new albums out on Koch this year, this one along with a more typical cd of the genre-hopping instrumentals for which she’s best known. It may come as a surprise that the A-list violinist and composer, a frequent Bill Frisell sidewoman and someone who’s worked with everybody from Lou Reed to Lucinda Williams, would do a vocal album. Even more strikingly, she doesn’t play much on it, using her violin only for tasteful, minimalist fills in places. But she doesn’t have to do anything more with it. This self-titled cd is a triumph of smart Americana songwriting and equally smart, unaffectedly attractive singing. Who knew she had it in her.


Norah Jones gets credit for encouraging Scheinman to get in front of the mic, and it’s a good thing she did: Scheinman shows off a clear, uncluttered, somewhat plaintive style that fits her material perfectly. The cd opens with a tastefully spare treatment of the traditional folksong I Was Young When I Left Home, following a Bob Dylan arrangement. Scheinman then abruptly picks up the pace with the boisterous barroom rocker Come On Down, fueled by Tony Scherr’s Stonesy guitar work. The third track, Rebecca’s Song is a pensive pop/folk song written by New York-based backup singer Rebecca Fanya. In his only cameo on the album, Frisell provides some apt guitar atmospherics. The John S. Hurt tune Miss Collins gets a stark, retro treatment here, similar to the version Jack Grace plays live.


After an impressively understated version of the Lucinda Williams ballad King of Hearts and the Jimmy Reed blues Shame Shame Shame, Scheinman returns to a minimalist, somewhat mysterious note with an original, the 6/8 ballad The Green.  The single best track on the album is another 6/8 original, the evocatively melancholy Newspaper Angels. Scheinman also includes a heartfelt, quietly passionate take of the old jazz standard Twilight Time and wraps up the album with a jazzy cover of Tom Waits’ Johnsburg, Illinois. Tim Luntzel adds fluid, melodic upright bass to three of the cuts, and the somewhat ubiquitous Kenny Wolleson is his reliably tasteful self on drums. 


If you miss Laura Cantrell doing country music, or can’t wait til Neko Case or Gillian Welch come out with a new cd, this is for you. In an impressive stroke of generosity, both this album and Scheinman’s other 2008 release, the instrumental cd, are up for live streaming on her website. A more enticing advertisement would be impossible. Jenny Scheinman plays Barbes at 7 on August 19.  


August 6, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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