Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (2010)

“The promo lit tells us Jenn Cleary’s style is a “mix of acoustic rock and blues” but, really, she gets to so much more than that: zydeco, old school pop, out and out folk, troubadour, N’Orleans, hell: more than a few modes, and she often approaches her work from a Harry Chapin-ish POV, telling stories about the Everyman/woman, the trials and travails of day-to-day life, tons of sympathy reaching for the lost and forgotten but also a steadfast backbone of hope for each and every one of those trying to find their way up from the bottom. She even catches that cool Chris deBurgh habit of breathy commentary asides, something one doesn’t often run across.

Back to the Wheel shimmers with catchy tunes and is ultimately blues/folk based, probably, though I hesitate mightily to pin it down. In Completely Free and elsewhere, Cleary even captures strong evocations of Terry Garthwaite (anyone remember the righteous old Joy of Cooking band?), and in Nick Forster she located a guitarist who reminds me a lot of a favored ol’ indie rocker, John Zawacki, a cat who knew his rock from his roll and never hesitated to play the tar outta both. All Cleary’s songs are varying degrees of zesty, heartfelt, introspective, shout-out-loudy, but there are some that are just uncategorizable, like Those Boys, my favorite cut, a paean without a resolve but one that leaves you thinking…and thinking…and thinking. The woman’s lyrics here are more gestural than most would dare pen but work like a charm.

In sum-up, then, how would I typify Jenn Cleary? I wouldn’t. She’s a free spirit with a very attractive blend of the traditional and the anarchic, a human being who advocates the condition and invites all to step up to it. She is, dare I say it?, a latter-day hippie of the Woodstock variety, and, man o man, can we ever have too much of that?”

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