Any Kind of Angel
New Englander Jenny Reynolds is one of many singer-songwriters who found a musical home in Austin. She fits right in with that defining trait of Texas singer-songwriters – storytelling. And, with this, her fourth album, she’s long earned the respect of some of the city’s best musicians. Those familiar with the great work that Mark Hallman has done for Eliza Gilkyson should take notice here too. Reynolds’ Any Kind of Angel not only offers hard luck stories and dark moments but it’s a musical treat wherein Hallman uses different musicians and different configurations for each song. You know some of these names – Scrappy Jud Newcomb on various strings, Bettysoo and Jaime Harris on harmony vocals, Andre Moran (and co-producer) on electric guitar, Warren Hood on fiddle, Nate Rowe on upright bass, Oliver Steck on cornet and Hallman playing virtually everything else. All are Reynolds originals save her sublime cover of Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (one of the best this writer has heard this side of creative jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson).
The glorious three-part harmonies (Reynolds, Bettysoo, Jenifer Jackson) on the opener “There Is a Road” are riveting, buoyed by Newcomb’s nylon string guitar playing off Reynolds’ acoustic chords. The title track has three-part harmonies too with Harris teaming with Bettysoo as Warren Hood soothes with his fiddle while Reynolds sings about what happens to a family when the family business, farming, is ruined by drought. “The Way That You Tease” is a sly, snaky tune with Reynolds showing her electric guitar chops and Steck’s passionate cornet solo. She’s taking the sensuous route here with lines like “Take it slow but don’t dither I might like the way that you tease.” As the title suggests, “Dance For Me” is seemingly one of the lighter tunes with a faint flamenco feel from Newcomb’s nylon string guitar but a closer listen reveals some dark lyrics portraying the lonely side of an entertainer’s life. As it is throughout, Reynolds’ voice is pure, floating and gliding over the stellar backing.
“The Trouble I’m In” is a haunting, pleading-to-a-higher-power atmospheric blues that leads into the standout “Love and Gasoline,” where her electric guitar is sharp against the chorus – “If you do anything to lose your soul or show your seams You’ll know everything of love and gasoline.” Her “The Way We Say Goodbye” is a reflective, melancholy musing on life’s fleeting meeting and how relationships can quickly evaporate, pushed along mostly by Hallman’s B3. “Before I Know You’re Gone” is an instrumental duet between Reynolds’ acoustic guitar and Hood’s haunting fiddle that strengthens the tune’s emotional impact – “Chide myself for thinking thoughts of moving on When I’m afraid of letting go before I know you’re gone.” “Didn’t I Know” has another of those indelible choruses that jut lingers in your head for hours after hearing it – “Somebody save me, say it ain’t so She’s out with my baby, didn’t I know Why keep a secret she already told She’s out with my baby, didn’t I know.”
Jenny Reynolds is being praised by great singer-songwriters such as Jon Dee Graham and Slaid Cleaves. We dare not argue. As mentioned, these are well-crafted songs with pure vocals but the instrumentation and varied configurations is what separates it from the rest.
- Jim Hynes