Gina Clowes – True Colors
Let’s have a cheer for artists skilled at pouring old wine into new bottles. Gina Clowes has made quite a name for herself as one of the best banjo players working in the Americana scene today thanks to her stellar work with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers. Her first solo album True Colors proves that she understands the form so well that she’s able to use it for her own purposes and isn’t restricted to performing pastoral invocations to a bygone past. There are a number of instrumentals on True Colors, but the lyrically driven material demonstrates that Clowes’ talents extend far past the merely musical. Those lyrics, however, complement the music to such an extent that it is quite clear they were composed with the arrangements in mind and Clowes’ surprising vocal talents means that they are delivered with maximum imagination. This is a worthwhile album for any bluegrass or Americana fan, but casual fans will likely enjoy it as well.
“Puppet Show” is an excellent introduction to the album and sports one of its finest lyrics. Clowes really sinks her teeth into this number and her phrasing is an absolute delight at key points during the performance. The claw hammer banjo employed in this arrangement, courtesy of Clowes’ brother Victor Furtado, duels nicely with Clowes’ chromatic style and the echoes of jazz and swing filling the song makes it deliciously musical. She draws from American history for inspiration on one of the album’s best instrumentals “Saylor’s Creek”. It begins on a predictably downcast note, but the mood turns more frantic as the tempo spikes and the wonderful performance given by the band will capture anyone’s attention. “True Colors”, the album’s title song, is meant as a quirky and loving paean from Clowes to her husband and succeeds spectacularly thanks to the chemistry generated by the musicians and an ideal arrangement for conveying such sentiments. The spiritual aspects of “Looking for Sunshine” are deeply connected to Clowes and she reflects that intimacy quite nicely in her vocal. Her vocal is strengthened further by some occasional harmony parts and the personal nature of the songwriting and performance will likely prompt listeners to invest even more of their attention into the track.
“For Better or For Worse” features a guest vocalist in Heather Berry Mabe and her voice is similar enough to Clowes’ own that some listeners might scarcely be able to tell the difference. Mabe’s singing doesn’t have the same ethereal potential of other songs on True Colors, but she has genuine emotive range that she puts to good use on this number. There’s a delightfully rambunctious sound to the instrumental track “Goodbye , Lianne” that restrains itself just enough for a positive effect. Malia Furtado’s fiddle playing is exemplary. There’s a gypsy-like quality to the swirling melodicism of “La Puerta Del Diablo” and Malia Furtado’s work on the fiddle is, once again, a glittering high point, but the rest of the band turns in remarkable performances as well. This is one of the most satisfying releases of 2017 from any artist, any genre. Gina Clowes has arrived in a big way with this debut and let’s hope there’s more to come from this major league talent.