Anyone who hears Jennifer Truesdale’s Through the Circle will finish 2019 as one of the year’s most rewarding releases. I loved this album the first time I heard it from beginning to end; Truesdale covers a variety of styles over Through the Circle’s while bringing a strong sense of self to these traditions that saves them from sounding like empty mimicry. The Boston based singer/songwriter is a Berklee College graduate and her tenure at that esteemed music school pays dividends for Through the Circle as former students and faculty alike guest on this collection. There are two covers included among her originals and they are audacious choices by any measure – Truesdale goes with choosing songs with instant identification value, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With”, but such well known songs come with peril. Truesdale proves up to the task.

Her original material plays to her strengths. The first track “I Need You Tonight” sports a readymade radio sound without ever sounding like cheap pop garbage. Truesdale doesn’t deliver an ironic embrace of blues music; you can hear her clear affection for the style simmering or else burning through multiple passages of the song. One of the album’s strengths is her skill for writing choruses and the first track boasts one of the best.

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Piano, light six string shading, and a relaxed rhythm section makes much of “Thinking of You” go. The loose limbed backbeat scoops you up from the outset, but Truesdale upends listener’s expectations with a lyrical acoustic guitar solo and one of the album’s best considered vocals. Few singers can bring raw talent and academic training together like Truesdale and the broad base of musical masks she wears are never transparent.

“Have You Ever Seen the Rain>:” is quite a surprise. Truesdale has the talent, conviction, and connections to turn in a verbatim take, it’s the safest approach and plays to listener’s expectations, but Truesdale shows daring. She recasts the song instead as a gospel infused effort and takes on secondary singers in just the right way; they reinforce another of the album’s fine choruses and Truesdale molds her voice around the song’s needs rather than hogging your attention.

The Southern gospel flavor goes on with “We Will Not Be Forgotten”. There’s a much more deliberate shape to this track than the earlier numbers thanks to its clear design as an anthem and the commercial potential built into the cut. Backing singers are, once again, used well. It’s going to be one of the best tracks for a lot of listeners. “Love the One You’re With” is the album’s second cover and possesses the same bright bounce in its sound we hear with the Stephen Stills original, The critical difference, however, lies with the present day polish making the song shine.

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“”My Life” isn’t the longest track on Through the Circle, but Truesdale has positioned this as a closer for obvious reasons. It does feel and plays like a summing up, especially in its words, but she has none of the heavy handed traits sinking lesser talents into melodrama. Jennifer Truesdale’s new album Through the Circle checks all if my boxes without ever coming off as pre-calculated nonsense pandering for our attention.

Sebastian Cole