Gina Clowes – True Colors
This is how a time-tested genre that’s fallen out of mainstream commercial favor survives. It survives because imaginative and talented songwriters/musicians emerge committed to revitalizing the form by paying tribute to the past without ever becoming beholden to it. Gina Clowes’ debut manifests that through offering eleven original compositions that aim to invoke more than rolling green mountains and the other pastoral trappings common to traditional bluegrass. Her approach is more akin to what singer/songwriters do and the personal touch marking many of these songs is impossible to ignore. The instrumentals never risk self indulgence and confine themselves to manageable lengths while emphasizing melodic strengths and virtues over flashy exhibitions of skill. Clowes has enlisted her gifted Furtado family and other talented players alike to aid her in putting these songs together and their contributions make an enormous difference in enhance the quality of the final result.
The dueling banjos on “Puppet Show”, the first song, create their own dialogue that you won’t hear anywhere else on this album. One thing that stands out, if nothing else, about True Colors is how rarely Clowes repeats herself musically or lyrically. Moreover, she rarely sings a line the same way twice during her vocal turns and “Puppet Show” shows her to be a singer constantly exploring, uncovering new emotional layers in the song, and never settling for just one interpretation. Her individuality burns through on the song “True Colors” and this musical love letter to her husband has a quirky quality that serves it in good stead. “Looking for Sunshine” has a bright hue surrounding it that undercuts any of the complications depicted in the lyrics and the yearning that comes across thanks both to the songwriting and singing will truly affect Clowes’ audience.
“Dust Can Wait” has a youthful surge pushing it along and deserves consideration as one of the album’s best instrumental performances. Heather Berry Mabe’s singing makes “For Better or For Worse” will impact listeners as well thanks to the sensitive, patiently emotive phrasing that she brings to the lyric. Malia Furtado’s contributions via fiddle are important to nearly every track, particularly songs like “The Wayward Kite” where a very individual neo-classical sort of influence comes through in her playing and further varies the album’s musical character. “Goodbye, Lianne” depends on Furtado’s contributions as well, but her playing takes on a distinctly different personality with this song and has lyrical characteristics that make it another exceptional instrumental. “I’ll Stay Home” foregoes the bluegrass influences that dominate much of the album in favor of a straight forward acoustic approach dependant on guitar and it has, arguably, one of the stronger refrains on True Colors. “Beautiful Land” concludes the album with a cover. Nina Simone’s original is recast here in a bluegrass mold, but the style’s boilerplate sound is much more stylized and the tropes aren’t emphasized. It makes for an a unique conclusion to True Colors and Clowes caps it off with a final strong vocal. This is a release appealing to far more than just the bluegrass crowd. but Devotees of Americana will find tons here to love and revisit often.