Saturday, September 21, 2019

Jennifer Saran: “Smoky Nights” (2019) CD Review

Jennifer Saran is a vocalist and songwriter who works in a variety of musical realms, dipping into soul and pop on earlier releases, and now delving into jazz with her delicious new EP, Smoky Nights. This CD features all original material, written by Jennifer Saran and Narada Michael Walden. Narada Michael Walden also produced and arranged these tracks, as he did for Jennifer Saran’s previous releases Walk With Me and Wake Up. Narada Michael Walden also plays drums, bass and keys on this release. The other musicians joining Jennifer Saran on Smoky Nights include Tammy Hall on piano, Jim Reitzel on guitar, Rich Armstrong on trumpet, Daniel Casares on saxophone, and Charles McNeal on saxophone. Jennifer delivers some gorgeous and exciting material here, and is not shy about addressing some of the topics troubling our nation today.

The EP opens with its title track, “Smoky Nights,” a sexy, late-night jazzy gem, Jennifer Saran’s voice having a sultry quality. “I turn down the lights/You’re still fooling me/Smoky nights.” And the way those horns rise up from the darkness is fantastic. This track features some good work on keys as well. The whole thing works like a spell gliding around us, gathering us in, enchanting us. “Wrap your arms around me/'til your charm surrounds me/Hold me forever more/Smoky nights.” That’s followed by “Love Is Now Gone.” This one too seems to be emerging from a dark, mysterious place, the keys pushing open the door and tempting us inside, the saxophone offering little observations and glimpses into this world. Of course, it is Jennifer’s voice that is queen of this land, gorgeous and strong and commanding. Her voice gathers all around her, and she tells us her woeful tale. “Love is now gone/All happiness, I see/Will no longer be/Plans we made/The music we played/Where did it go?” Her voice grabs hold of us, seemingly without effort, pulling us into the darkness, or perhaps making us aware of the darkness already surrounding us. “Loneliness always comes/Everyone’s life’s undone/Love cannot survive/With stories or lies/You know what you’ve done.”

“Let The Waves Wash Over” is a somewhat more energetic number, mostly because of its rhythm. Yet it touches on a serious subject: rape. It was written after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when people like Susan Collins and Jeff Flake voted to confirm a rapist to the Supreme Court. It opens with these lines: “I fought him off/I cried out and no one came/I live with the shame.” Yet this song has an empowering and positive message: “It is time for a change/Vote them out in my name/Let the waves wash over me/No more time should go by/Daughters, sisters and wives/Let the waves wash over me.” Let’s hope that every last person that voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is removed from office through the voting process. “Let The Waves Wash Over Me” is followed by “Don’t Forget My Name,” which has a pretty sound. “Have you loved me for the last time?/I cannot see, I cannot see/Have you touched me for the last time?/It cannot be, it cannot be.” Those short instrumental sections are powerful, and the track builds wonderfully.

The EP concludes with “Get Over Yourself,” which, though recorded in the studio, has the feel of a live track, with some background sounds as it opens. It begins with a groovy bass line, and once that is established, Jennifer’s vocals come in, followed soon by the rest of the band. This is a seriously cool tune, in part because of the bass. Plus, I’m glad to hear a jazz singer taking on that mendacious criminal in the White House and the entire corrupt Republican Party. “Give me a break/I know you can tell/What you’re saying is fake/Get over yourself.” The track then bursts open in the second half, and sounds fantastic. This is such a good tune. “From the president on down/Y’all screwing up/Y’all screwing up everything.” Indeed.

CD Track List
  1. Smoky Nights
  2. Love Is Now Gone
  3. Let The Waves Wash Over
  4. Don’t Forget My Name
  5. Get Over Yourself 
Smoky Nights was released on September 20, 2019 on Tarpan Records.

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