By The Riz
A mainstay of the Saskatchewan music scene, Western Canadian Music Award multi-nominee Jen Lane has an impressive back catalogue of solo projects (Sleepless, Injection, Jen Lane, For the Night), collaborations (Jen and Jon Duets) and guest appearances (Smokekiller). Soulful and honest, country and rootsy, Jen Lane has created a career of diverse and emotional song writing. Her new album, This Life of Mine, is not only a continuation of that career, but a bold step forward, an album that deserves to take a place, all alliteration aside, as a contemporary Canadian country classic.
Dealing with personal physical injury – an injured ankle and foot requiring many surgeries and years of healing – and personal emotional injury – Lane’s grandfather passing away the day they entered Kelowna’s acclaimed Bottega studio – seem to have shaped Lane’s musical direction and delivery; This Life of Mine is an honest, organic album, filled with heart break, celebration, confessions and acclimations.
The album opens with an understated solo riff, a shy guitar introduction before the soothing main vocals lead listeners in to feel the music’s warmth. The song quickly builds part by part, with percussion and background vocal, a family conversation at the dinner table, each voice fitting between and around the others, sharing stories and trading memories. The album exudes warmth from the start, a contemporary country sound with an old-school country intimacy. Radiating honesty, the record reassures listeners there is trust here, there is a place for them here, there is a spot at the table – come sit.
“Movin’ On” is a straight-ahead country pop song with the intimacy of a ballad. Listeners can’t help but be drawn in, to have Jen share her stories with gentle grace and humble honesty. Melodically interact and never overstated, “movin’ on” is keenly on-point and casually catchy, breezy and open like a self-assured summer afternoon. The last line of the song presents a narrator who is being reassuring while deftly defiant, hoping for a positive change yet allowing for a bit of bite in the advice. (Go and listen to the last line and it will make sense, trust me.)
“1st Day Of Spring (In Saskatchewan)” is the best song T Bone Burnett never got around to recording; to make a song with a slide whistle lines that fit can only be attributed thus far to Burnett and Lane, and possibly They Might Be Giants. This song may appear “kitchsy” to some, but the arrangement smacks of down south gumbo eating, porch-sitting jamming, only the northern prairie version. Anyone who has experienced the schizophrenic personality of Saskatchewan weather will appreciate this tune on an entirely other level. The fun it exudes is infectious, someone stuck in their house drinking wine and having a one-man jam dancing in their living room; all snowed-in but not souled-out.
“Never Try To Love You” and “Hollow Heart” are straightly stated, lyrically honest and painfully aware. There are moments here people will include in love, or longing, letters. Lines such as “I got too much to say sometimes / and it don’t come out right / it don’t come out right / I’d say nothin’ but I promised I / I would never try / I would never try / to love you” are heart achingly empathetic, aguishly aware.
“Shoe” is a rousing, foot-stomping good time, completely contemporary in delivery but old-school in feel. It will draw a fan base in country, blues, and roots fans alike.
Part of the intimacy of the album can be attributed to presence of her partner Jon Antinouk, who supplies guitar, vocal and harmonica performance for the record. Jen and Jon created an album called Duets a heartbreakingly sincere album that must be part of any music connoisseurs collection. Their collaborations add emotional depth to each other’s projects, creating connectional nuances, which emit from the songs, producing an eased comfort that cannot be faked or replicated, except for years of dedication and emotional connections.
As aching and heart breaking as “Happy” and “Fools” can be, the closing track “This Life of Mine” is the happiest, most inspiring country / folk tune the Beatles never finished. The song seems simply stated, but is complex in delivery and lyrical impact. The title track keeps an understated half-time grove while constantly pushing forward, like the guiding hands of a guardian angel or loving parent. “This Life of Mine” should become a personal motivational anthem listened to each morning to send people into a positive, self-discovery state of being.
This Life of Mine is a milestone in Jen Lane’s career, and amazingly strong album from start to finish with brilliant performances and breath taking production. If talks aren’t in the works yet, the cable melodrama Nashville should by the rights to every song on this album, a la Moby with commercial rights, to use in their episodes. Why pay for songwriters when an entire season of songs is waiting right here? As much as high point this record is, there is a feeling of more to come, a step forward into stardom. This is a life on unhesitant potential.Jen Lane, This Life of Mine