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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jeannine Hebb - Whileaway

Jeannine Hebb - Whileaway
2011, Jeannine Hebb

Jeannine Hebb has one of the best pure voices in Indie Rock. Her stunning debut EP Too Late To Change Me announced the Brooklyn based singer/songwriter to the world four years ago. It wouldn't have been surprising to see Hebb regress a bit on her second recorded effort, but Whileaway finds Hebb leaping forward rather than stepping back. Her penetrating voice, distinctive melodies and emotionally intelligent lyrics make for an unforgettable combination. Comparisons to Fiona Apple, Alexa Ray Joel and Tori Amos may seem appropriate at times through Whileaway, but it becomes eminently clear before long that Jeannine Hebb's sound and style are entirely her own.

Whileaway opens with "Call Him Out", a cute number written early in heartbreak. She wonders why no one intervenes. The effort is intriguing, and has the feel of a pop-opera or new Broadway composition. Hebb creates and enlivens a character here that's entirely believable in her self-pity and self-victimization. The melody is entirely memorable, and Hebb sings with a voice that could grace any stage. "I Believe" is a soulful ballad that shows off the many colors and gorgeous tone of her voice. "Back To Me Again" is written from a position of power, with a former, misbehaving beau trying to his way back into her life. The edgy rock arrangement almost seems to hide a country heart, but Hebb builds a wonderfully intricate chorus that will keep your toes tapping.

"Tell Me No" shows a wonderfully human bit of dysfunction, wrapped up in a theatrical aria that's absolutely unforgettable. The combination of neurotic need and honest vulnerability plays out perfectly against the simple piano-based arrangement. "Heartache" deals with the darkness that follows a relationship, with the resolution that she won't make the same mistake again. Once again, Hebb carries a stage presence into the song, and a diva-like voice that wends its way through the vaguely Mediterranean melody. Edge and beauty come together here, like the brittle, icy rim of a puddle on a frosty morning. "Don't" continues to dance on the emotional ledge, in that dark place between capitulation and recovery. Strength grows in the chorus, where she fights back against the causes of her heartbreak. Hebb's sense of composition here is amazing, using all of the instruments in her palette to build sound in waves that crash over the listener much as the emotions that inspired the song might once have engulfed her.

"These Days" is a melancholy exploration told in the form of a personal ballad. Hebb's (or her character's) personal thoughts born into song alongside a lovely, fluid melody, offer a wonderfully quiet yet powerful moment of pure emotion, and allow listeners a glimpse into Hebb's upper vocal range as well. "Goodbye" takes on a slightly edgier feel, as Hebb begins to separate herself from the source of her heartache. Unlike the songs that came before, there's more of an analytical slant this time around, as Hebb explains her reasons for going. In the process she builds gorgeous song architecture that befits the sprouting of new chutes into a bare emotional spring that must follow every winter.

"Tragedy" is a relationship post-mortem in the medium of bluesy pop. Hebb belts and croons her way through the moment, speaking not out of anger but out of fact. The dynamic arrangement is too complex for pop radio, but is very appealing nonetheless. "Low" alternates a workman-like verse with an airy, one-word chorus. The split is interesting, and the neo-baroque glue that holds the two distinctive pop styles together will keep listeners very much on their toes. Hebb closes with "Make It Right", a dark confessional that throws all of the previous resolution in doubt. What's appeared to be a general migration toward healing is left in the emotional turmoil of one who almost made it through, but is on the verge of getting sucked back in to the relationship that started it all. The personal appeal here is compelling, and Hebb delivers it with a voice and presence that combine all of the personal glamour of a big-time pop star and all of the pastiche of a veteran of the stage.

Whileaway is the sort of album you park in your CD/MP3 player and play again and again. Jeannine Hebb shows that her debut EP was anything but a fluke with a performance that is subtle and complex beyond her years, both musically and lyrically. With a voice that would be welcome on any stage, anywhere and an amazing depth of songwriting ability, it's hard to imagine Jeannine Hebb as being anything less than a star one day. Whileaway is nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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