Let's see. The last we heard from Jennifer Greer, she was paying musical homage to Shackleton's Men, subjected to the frozen white of the Arctic for two years if they make it. That was well over four years ago, but she picks up right where she left off musically if not lyrically. She hasn't lost a lick, actually, those ten magic fingers of hers doing the Greer dance right off the bat on Woodsy. She has a sound, you see, and you probably think that everyone does, but not like Greer. She has an ability to channel who you might expect—the Laura Nyro's and Carole King's—with a heavy dose of the ones you might not—the Happy Rhodes' and Essra Mohawk's and others who lean toward theater as much as anything, and it is the combination which makes her unique. If there is anyone else out there with her sound, I've not heard them.
The jump from Shackleton's Men, the last track on 2005's The Apiary to Woodsy, the opening track on Fistful of Stars is no jump at all, really. They could be one-two without the blink of an eye—from desolate isolation to a simple portrait—and when you add the bouncy Paperboys and Unicorns which follows Woodsy, well, I defy you to hear a real break. And it flows from there to the end quite nicely, thank you.
Actually, I need to backtrack on that just a bit. Fistful of Stars is broken up into Side 1 and Side 2 and I wondered why until I got to Side 2. I have no idea whether these songs ended up the way they did through the pure happenstance of sequencing or whether Greer had planned it from the beginning, but Side 2, as much Greer as it is, is a step up. The first eight tracks have a nice flow and stand on their own but from the first notes of Track 9, When You Call Me, something is added. I'm not even sure what it is, whether it is simply intensity or an actual link between songs, but there just seems to be, uh, "more?" The chorus on When You Call Me is a smooth glide and carries the song right into Red Sapphire, a jazzy-rhythmed Carole King-esque ride of a non-hit-single variety. She takes a further step in that direction with the changing tempos of Arctic Song representing what? Different views? Different moods? Different people? It is like reading Dos Passos's U.S.A. with its changing characters and different times except that you eventually figure out what year it is and who the characters are. With Greer, it is a little more vague. And intriguing. There is a bit of theater in There You Are, a song which could be staged easily enough. While it tells a story of sorts, it is as much about the singer as the song (Greer in fact based the song upon the book What Is the What by David Eggers). She bases Geryon on another book, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson and after hearing the two, I am tempted to track both books down. She finishes Side 2 with Lakesong and the circle is complete. Looking at it, I wonder about the concept. Maybe it is a look back to albums on vinyl where the sides sometimes made a tremendous difference. While the difference here is not that marked, it is there. You can't miss it.
To be fair, I must confess to a little love affair between Greer and myself. For one thing, she has a magic touch on the piano. Indeed, it is the piano which drives the songs, though the band certainly does its share and very well indeed, but that piano... For another, she has an intriguing view of life. Her songs are like reading books filled with hope—not obvious and outward but there somewhere and implied. You know what they say—that there are a thousand ways to say I love you. In songwriting, the trick is finding that certain way. Jennifer Greer is working towards that, I think, and she touches it here and there. For most songwriters, that is as far as they get. For Greer, maybe not.
My part in our little affair? I hear her and get what she's doing. I listen. Artists need that. They need reinforcement and understanding and a whole truckload of reasons to justify doing what they love and Greer loves her music. So do I, so I write about it. It's easy. I just write what I hear. Best job in the world.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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