Sarah Jane Scouten’s Confessions destroys polite convention: This album can, indeed, be judged by its cover. A snake curls around of a bottle of medicine, which sports both a butterfly decoration and a yin-yang circle. The flowers that frame the edges bloom in both dark and light beauty.
As the poet, William Blake wrote, “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence”.
Sure, that’s James Taylor “fire and rain” stuff.
And this is also folk music that defies convention. ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ begins with a bluster and then dissolves into a bluesy and sympathetic ode to a broken heart. An organ swells, and a French voice makes a weirdly dramatic entrance for a moment (inspired by Serge Gainsbourg); and then the tune returns to its open wound proclamation of human pain, which is punctuated with more spoken French, that huge organ sound, and a tough electric guitar.
Then, in contrast, ‘You Are The Medicine’ is acoustic, breezy, melodic, and dare I say, hopeful?
There’s more tough stuff: ‘Breaking And Entering’ rumbles with spite, strident chords, and an eerie guitar solo that sings with beautiful grindstone passion while a necessary piano plays simple sympathy. This tune has the sound of ghosts, risen from the grave, who are still thirsty to play the blues. ‘I’m A Rattlesnake’ ups the ante with music that, again, spits a bit of venom with yet another pretty great guitar solo and heavy percussion. This echoes the talent of Australian roots singer Kasey Chambers. ‘You Still Love Him, Kid’ quells the mood and confesses an uneasy truth, and perhaps, a psychological depth, with more organ, guitar, percussion, and pathos.
Oddly enough, amid all the hurly-burly, this is still folk music.
William Blake also wrote. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”.
So sure, the snake and the butterfly, contrary forces, both get to sing on this record. And that’s just the point. And, by the way, Sarah Jane has a wonderous voice that sings with the very same ardent passion of Tish Hinojosa, Nanci Griffith, or Patti Griffin.
Then the there’s a curveball tossed into the mix. ‘Pneumonia’ is odd. It’s folk. But’s still odd. Bless me Father (the album is called Confessions!), and this song simply (and painfully) opens a heart like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne. This is reality set to music, and it is art that transcends commercial fodder. Sarah Jane’s voice sings with the soul of love and dark introspection, knitted to a chorus that has the power of an exploding heart. It’s nice song.
‘Ballad Of A Southern Midwife’ continues to punch at conventions. This tune pulses with tough “confessions” that rest at the tip of a dagger. (The protagonist “set fire to the church house at the age of three!”) An organ, again, swells the tune into a deep dance (and recalls the great Jimmy Smith of Back At The Chicken Shack fame!) and announces the results of some ancestral DNA test that has nothing to do with genetic kinship with George Washington. This is dirt road stuff that mines the old the archetype of Robert Johnson’s ‘Me And The Devil Blues’.
But this is a folk album. ‘Show Pony’ is a wish-filled with a nice melody, some steel guitar, and a wonderous organ. Now, I could be wrong, but this may well be the best joyous ‘Pony’ song since Los Lobos’ ‘Jenny’s Got A Pony’ from their The Neighborhood album. Then ‘Poison Oak’ puffs white smoke with a beautiful and simmering song that conjures old-time country with a petal steel that oozes Fifties slow dance security, and tube amp radio memory.
The final song, ‘Crossing The Bar’, is the dart in the time-worn folk bullseye. This is pure modern acoustic stuff that sings with tradition. And speaking of William Blake’s “Eternity”, the lyrics paint that duality between life and death, which is a fine ending to an album that tightrope walks, with yin-yang slippers, over the taut tendon that separates bluesy rock music and the sincerity of any coffee house folk singer.
Sarah Jane refers to her music as “space-country”. Fair enough. And I’ll simply refer to those Harmoniums, the “gracious” Kurt Vonnegut Sirens of Titan created creatures who live in the caves of the planet Mercury, thrive on vibrations, and have two quiet telepathic messages: “Here I am, here I am, here I am” and “So glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are”. This music sings that beautiful song, too. And by the way, back here on planet Earth, Confessions exhales the pristine air of Western Canada and Ian Tyson’s four strong winds.
Artist’s website: https://www.sarahjanescouten.com/
‘You Are The Medicine’ – official video:
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