Cassandra Jenkins new album: a pandemic panacea? It’s going out on a limb, a bold assertion for sure but here are my views.
Cassandra Jenkins wrote her latest collection of songs ‘An Overview of Phenomenal Nature’ with The Purple Mountains tour in mind. She needed some new material for the tour: so with a wad of lyrics and an almost complete song, she headed to Josh Kaufman’s studio where the pair set to work. A week later they had an album to show for their industry. She had realised her goal, only things didn’t go as planned thereafter, in fact life “then just got harder”. Maybe it’s synchronicity then that ‘Michelangelo’, the album opener, greets us with muddy guitar, slow rhythm and Jenkins breathy vocal proclaiming ‘i’m a three-legged dog / working with what i’ve got’.
‘New Bikini’ is delightful, dreamy and with arguably her most intimate vocal on the album. A jazzy, rambling intro of Saxophone reveals a heartfelt affair, we hear a brushed snare drum swishing metronomically to portray the sea lapping back and forth: ‘Baby, go jump in the ocean / the water, it cures everything’. Art is suffering, and the songwriter shows heart on sleeve and the depths she is willing to plunge, to create meaningful song here.
‘Hard Drive’ is the showcase track. I could have easily used all these words discussing it, but I’ll go with: philosophical, slightly irreverent and incantatory with this plucky ‘spoken-word over music’ composition. A liberating song for a songwriter: to cascade someone else’s views as it pulses along with the ingenuity of a well-mixed house track, it’s the subtle changes in the arrangement that subconsciously alter your perspective.
Visual Art is important to this New York musician, she doffs her hat to the likes of Miranda July and notably Cindy Sherman, when talking about ‘Crosshairs’. It’s a song about how we can change our identity she tells me: “every time you meet eyes with someone, you could be a completely different person. The fact that we hold onto our identity so tightly, it’s hurting us”. The Norwegian influence crops up here and there, notably with Ole Broderson’s artwork and again with ‘Ambiguous Norway’: boasting texture and purring rhythm reminiscent of ‘La Cienega Just Smiled’ it lets you float away in your mind. Behind this album’s craft there is a talented supporting cast : producer/multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman and Stuart Bogie’s deft saxophone and flute frills, among others.
‘Hailey’ is another melody that’s easy on the ear and Jenkins maintains her vocal control, preferring quality to power in all instances. It trails out with ‘The Ramble’ which is, well, a ramble but more a demonstration of the collective musicianship which has the ability to hold you.
Fortune favours the brave and Cassandra Jenkins deserves every possible fortune with this collection of songs in a time of consternation for us all. In summary, after close examination, there is restorative good in ‘Phenomenal Nature’ and I would have no hesitation in prescribing a regular dose to fend off the ails and travails of our current plight. Highly recommended.
Stuart Large freelance writer/contributor