Break and Bloom by Jane Kramer

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Quality albums seem to be literally flowing out of the USA at the moment and this is one of several that I’ve heard this last couple of weeks. Kramer is from Portland, Oregon and falls slightly more into the County part of the Americana spectrum. She has an appealing throaty warble as part of her voice that helps to give her songs a distinctive edge that she uses sparingly enough to keep it interesting. The songs are heartfelt tales of love and loss and contain enough twists and turns to keep you listening and there’s splashes of brass and fiddle that help to separate it out from being just another run of the mill Americana album.

The opening track ‘Georgia’ begins with a statement that draws you in with an almost drawled “I wish I was drunk in Georgia” and continues to run through details of a travelogue like tale about ‘not going to jail in this dress’. It sets the scene for what follows – gritty personal songs that tell us of a life lived through trouble with some gentle piano based ballads and painful songs of loss and regret.

The album is titled ‘Break & Bloom’ and is chock full of great songs and excellent warm playing where you can hear the sounds of a life fully lived with some wistful regrets but a big dollop of steely determination to get through this hard life. The most compelling thing here through is the voice and the way in which Kramer applies it to some lovely Appalachian sounding melodies. There some neat fiddle playing on ‘Nobody’s Woman Tonight’ a tough tale of fierce independence, drinking moonshine and listening to Patsy Cline. We get some fine banjo picking too in ‘Hold my Whiskey’ which is a great drinking song from a female perspective. ‘That Muddy Water’ follows and we hear a forceful vocal with some tasty guitar and a lyric that tells us about ‘a pretty girl, singing a pretty song’.

Kramer has a neat way of introducing lines that give a little twist to what in other hands might be fairly ordinary material. ‘Red Balloon’ gives her the chance to show off her vocal range with a lovely tune that has an excellent muted trumpet floating around in the background. ‘Anyway You Like, Child’ takes us in a different direction with a slightly bawdy Balkan feel and some accordion, stomping and background shouts that brings things to life.

If there is anything negative to say here it’s that the album seems a little on the long side and that there needs to be a bit more variety, but that’s nit-picking really. To end we do get a nice gospel style ‘How Far am I From Canaan’ as the concluding track and it’s a rousing way to finish this pretty much excellent album.

Reviewer: Greg Johnson

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