MABILENE – The Other Side (own label)

The Other SideHouston native Jenny Weaver, aka Mabilene, will be releasing her debut full-length album, The Other Side, this week. Though unlike many debut projects, this one stems from a songwriter whose artistic identity seems almost fully formed on her first record. In these instances, it is often the case that such development is brought about by way of putting in genuine time and paying substantial dues.

Produced by Jordan Lehning – son of Kyle Lehning, the man behind essentially every Randy Travis studio release – The Other Side is a swirling descent into influences of folk, soul, big band swing, film music, and of course, country music. The sonic construction of The Other Side is perhaps most evidently informed by Weaver’s upbringing steeped in the chart-topping hits of the 1940s, as well as records from the trailblazing women of country who would redefine the genre. Rife with slick, swirling strings and a fat, natural drum sound, The Other Side is a wonderland of audio aesthetics. This is before the songs themselves have even been considered, and make no mistake, there is plenty here to consider.

At a tight ten tracks – featuring only two songs over four minutes in length and three under three – one could easily mistake The Other Side for a light listen at first glance. The tracks contained within are quite dense lyrically, however. Mabilene is not shy in the slightest about deconstructing her own personal experiences in the name of art. In fact, one might venture to say that the process seemed almost cathartic for the songwriter, who put pen to pad for all but two of the album’s numbers: ‘Keep Me From Blowing Away’, the Paul Charles Craft number popularized by Linda Ronstadt, and Nancy Wilson’s ‘How Glad I Am’. Mabilene seizes the opportunity presented by these tracks to demonstrate her considerable vocal chops, particularly the latter, during which shades of Ella Fitzgerald can be heard, as well as skat and falsetto sections which bring to mind Joni Mitchell.

There is a clear aesthetic theme present throughout The Other Side, which is introduced in the opening number, ‘Against The Wall’, and carries through tracks like ‘Old Magnolia’ and ‘Carolina’. The latter, whose release preceded that of the album itself, is a number one may have caught live as far back as 2017, prior to Weaver’s departure from The Golden State which is documented in the track ‘California’.

The fusion of pop and cinematic symphony music throughout is equal parts engaging and fascinating. One is reminded of Kanye West’s Late Registration, on which the rapper collaborated heavily with film score composer Jon Brion to bring together disparate musical palettes and engineer a completely unique compound. The sound also harkens back to what Lana Del Rey was doing with symphonic pop on her own major-label debut, Born to Die. Though The Other Side takes a much more organic approach than did Born to Die, substituting breakbeats and keyboard loops for acoustic guitar and the occasional glockenspiel.

Lyrically, Mabilene has clearly been doing her homework, as the John Prine and Dolly Parton influences shine through like faded badges of honour. Given the depth of the dives within these songs, it can be easy to miss a number of lyrical gems if adequate attention is not being given. Opening track, ‘Against The Wall’, alone presents enough quotables for an entire record. From poetic parables like “Freedom, it’s a fragile thing. You might slip through the ice chasing after Spring”, to simple, direct text such as “you’ll regret every word that goes unsung”, and of course “I learned to blossom slow”, there is no shortage of adept execution of the weighty topics which present themselves.

Mabilene presents a clear capacity for deconstructing intricate, emotional situations and rendering them comprehensible. From the genuine concern and tough love offered in “Old Magnolia”, to the boldfaced rejection of conditional appreciation, and embrace of one’s self in the aforementioned “California”, it is apparent that we are hearing an artist not only willing to do the work of sussing out their own emotions and dealing with the subsequent backlash of facing down past mistakes, this is an artist who truly sees the value in that process on a personal level.

Not every moment throughout The Other Side is thematically heavy, as the album covers a broad spectrum of bases. The song ‘Running Circles’, at under three minutes in length, acts almost as a prelude, as a few of the tracks here do. The sentiment presented in ‘Running Circles’ is both simple and profound. The narrator here is expressing love, but is also expressing – in no uncertain terms – their desire for a relationship to transcend the standard of what it means to be with someone. What is being asked here is surrender on both ends, the opening of hearts to all the possibility, wonder, and hurt the world has to offer.

The Other Side is an album which wears its influences on its sleeve but simultaneously sets about carving out its own path from the second the needle hits the groove. Dense, thoughtful songwriting accompanies boundary-pushing production and instrumentation in one of the year’s most engaging records. Those with a penchant for cut-and-dry labels may have a tough time with this one as, at its most basic, The Other Side is a conjoining of at least two or three distinct musical styles. In any case, be it in the field of Americana, pop, country, or all of the above, discerning listeners can safely wager that Mabilene will be a key artist to watch in 2022.

Cameron Gunnoe

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