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Jenny Scheinman

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Album Review

Violinist, songwriter, and composer and Jenny Scheinman's self-titled offering has been affectionately dubbed "the vocal album" by fans; it's her first to feature her voice up front. It is also one of two recordings Scheinman's issued under her own name in 2008 — the other, Crossing the Field, is instrumental. The players are drummer Kenny Wollesen, guitarist and producer Tony Scherr, and bassist Tim Luntzel. Bill Frisell guests on one track, as does drummer Steve Jordan. Scheinman's voice is plaintive at its core, but it's disciplined and authentic. The material mixes folk, old-timey country, blues, and rock through four originals and seven covers. The opener, " I Was Young When I Left Home," is a traditional folk-blues arranged by Bob Dylan. The lonesome vulnerability in Scheinman's vocal, juxtaposed with Scherr's slide guitar, offers a tale of regret and shame. Her violin folds itself into the bridge, underscoring the sense of distance and motion: her protagonist cannot stop moving; if she does, her "sin" will overwhelm her. We can hear traces of Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Elizabeth Cotten, and Mimi Fariña in this re-telling. Sadness is followed by redemption in her ragged-but-right country rocker, "Come on Down," a love song to God's own desiring angel: "...He kisses your body, he kisses your soul/He kisses you all night and still you want more..." The beauty in the lyric is an invitation to a spiritual being with carnal talents.

Other covers include a gorgeous swing read of "Twilight Time," a lost blues by Mississippi John Hurt, a devastatingly effective electric take on Lucinda Williams' "King of Hearts," Tom Waits' "Johnsburg, Illinois," and an anthemic, nasty, party roll on Jimmy Reed's "Shame, Shame, Shame." But it's "Rebecca's Song," by gifted songwriter Rebecca Fanya, that may be the finest moment here. Frisell's atmospheric guitar treads lightly in the melody, and frames Scheinman's weary but determined vocal, tunneling into a lyric that is both autobiographical manifesto and warning. Scheinman's depth in these lines, both vocally and instrumentally with her ghostly violin, are startling, even unnerving. Scheinman's own songs are excellent. "The Green" is a haunted folk tale in waltz time about a missing family member. Scherr's guitars lilt around the bassline as Scheinman's violin becomes the voice of the disappeared. The slow rock shuffle of "Skinny Man" charts the wounds and fears of a single man — who may stand in for the entire gender. Her voice reaches the breaking point on the refrain: her protagonist acknowledges a shared sense of brokenness and offers shelter, but in his self-absorption he cannot accept them. It's among the most moving, dignified paeans to lost love in years. "Newspaper Angels" is an old-timey country waltz. Its lyrics offer a frozen moment in a sepia-toned photograph, but the characters' loneliness, disintegration, and tragedy are revealed in Scheinman's vocal. It attempts to restore what the photo cannot: the man at the heart of the song; longed for; absent. The album's narratives offer paradoxical emotions in abundance. Scheinman's voice seems transparent, but in its grain, her characters become opaque, formless as smoke. Yet they exist because the physicality in her singing bears witness to their passing — through us: they exist in the shared experiences in our stories of family, friends, lovers, and ourselves. This is a work of uncommon beauty and depth: sad, graceful, and passionate.


Born: June 08, 1979 in Jacksonville, FL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Violinist, composer, improviser, bandleader, and (yes) singer Jenny Scheinman has been a major force on the Brooklyn creative jazz scene since her arrival in the borough from the West Coast in 1999. She made weekly appearances at the Barbès club in the Park Slope neighborhood when not on tour or involved in other competing projects, using her residency there as a laboratory for trying out a variety of musical approaches and configurations, exploring styles from avant jazz to country-folk singer/songwriter...
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