Gwendolyn's second album is a strange early-2000s spin on acid folk, her songs imbued with both a sense of spacy, open-eyed wonder, and oblique, romantic disappointment. Obviously a lot of thought and effort has gone into making this album different and eclectic, with the basic acoustic-flavored folk-rock core embellished by plenty of off-the-wall touches of glass harmonica, saw, water jug, horns, and vibes. The material and voice aren't quite up to the ambitious reach, however. It sometimes sounds like the goal's been ingenious oddness for its own sake, rather than in the service of the uneven songwriting. Gwendolyn's voice has a shiver that sometimes marks her as a distant descendant of folk-rockers like Melanie (when it's at its most naive), Buffy Sainte-Marie (when it's at its shakiest), and Maria Muldaur (when it's at its bluesiest). Unfortunately, it gets a little whiny at times; at others, there's a weird inflection to her voice which suggests a Scottish or Irish bent, though she's American. Certainly some of the lyrical imagery is strange, sometimes taking the viewpoints of a flying Eskimo, a sleepwalker, or an insect, sometimes reflecting an ambivalent sexual orientation. She's a funny sort of early-21st century flower child, not deep enough to make a significant impression, yet too quirky to dismiss out of hand, her confusion possibly reflected in the confused musical directions of this record.
Not to be dismissed, indeed.
The official iTunes review is descriptive enough but is so focused on surface qualities and similarities to other singers (a common crutch for young or inexperienced reviewers) that it misses the forest for the trees. Gwendolyn has a gift for combining emotional acuity with very precise arrangements, and her voice is simply another expressive instrument. Not all of the songs on Dew are equally compelling, but when Gwendolyn is at the top of her game (e.g., the cathartic "Cast Away" and the melancholic "Nothing" and "Dark Mind"), her craft is unusually sophisticated. Two of the more adventurous tunes, "Vacuum" and "Insect Perspective," reveal a confident and skilled performer who understands that experimentation is most interesting when it grows out of a solid composition. Ingenuity, inventiveness, sophistication, adventurousness, experimentation. . . these are qualities worth celebrating in an industry dominated by cliché and imitation. Indeed, Gwendolyn should not be dismissed--not because she's quirky, but rather because her songwriting skills are simply too good to be ignored.