Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2000
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Last updated: 05 January 2000
Image © 1999 Moodia Records
The debut album from southeast London-based singer, poet, songwriter and cellist, Jeni Saint is a collection of ten short heartfelt vocal numbers. Entitled Hypnotise (Moodia (UK) mood101, August 1999), with a running time of just about 40 minutes, it is available either at Jeni's performances in and around London or via mail/telephone order; see her website for details. Soundbites available at her website are worth sampling but have developed from those on Hypnotise. Jeni's lyrics are highly poetic and filled with artistic messages and her music has a light, airy and folky feel.
Jeni tells us, "I have been working with producers and other musicians on finding the right 'sound' to accompany the existing material and lift it into a more commercial market." She said, "I had been playing many of the acoustic clubs in London and people wanted to buy CDs of my songs. This recording was created for that purpose—the'raw, live Jeni Saint'! The songs are recorded purely with voice and cello." That's how she has been performing her set in clubs. These performances are a testament to the confidence and courage of this budding new female vocal talent. The album was recorded by engineer Fred Pereira in his own studio. Jeni told us, "He's a great engineer because he is a musician himself and therefore really understands both sides of the glass."
When we asked Jeni about her musical influences, she said, "It is always difficult to pin down specific influences. I had a varied musical upbringing - classically based so I guess elements of that come through in the arrangements and tonal structures of the songs. I have always been a fan of good songwiring and I think that many of the early pop/rock bands demonstrate this skill - such as the Beatles, Velvet Underground, and Abba. Also people like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill - it may be fair to say that these guys planted the seeds of popular song with their Broadway styles. I like to compose with strong structures and accessible lyrices so that the songs can speak to a greater number of people."
Jeni didn't take singing lessons until she went to university. She told us, "I remember being adamant as a child that I didn't want my voice to be chanelled down one route from too young an age. I wanted to develop my own style. I used to sing at school and learned a great deal through my piano and cello lessons and I used to just sit at home playing the piano and singing along to records." Originally from Worthing, near Brighton, England, Jeni studied music at Oxford University and decided then was the time to take lessons and work on her technique.
These days Jeni is listening to a wide variety of music. "I'm actually quite into the chilled out style of dance music at the moment - bands like Morcheeba, Massiave Attack and Lamb. Listening to this type of music also helps me to hear what kinds of of noises and beats I want to accompany my existing sound. I also love listenint go some of the classic sixties/seventies bands that I missed out on when I was younger - Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, early Bowie. I loved Blondie when I was little and then of course moved into the 80s with Madonna, George Michael, Eurythmics - Annie Lennox has a great voice. On the classical front I play quite a bit of Mahler at the moment - I think his string writing is incredible and it can be really calming."
Jeni has a sweet and sensitive folky voice with a broad range perfectly suiting this vocally instensive album. Cello accompanyment perfectly compliments the intensity of the lyrical messages. Only the slightest of vocal processing was used in the production of the recording. "Layers Of Life," "Something Silent" and "Whisper Song" are sung perfectly a capella.
We asked Jeni to tell us about how she writes her songs. She said, "I try to vary the writing process as I find this prevents monotony and also brings a greater degree of variety to the songs. Sometimes I write whilst playing my cello and this way I come out with more rhythmic bass line ideas than say when I write at the piano when the tonality and chordal structure becomes more prominent."
Choral multi-tracking on "Old New Thoughts," "We Said Goodbye" and within "Why Should Eye" produces a lovely texture. "We Said Goodbye" actually comes off like a duet. Accompanied by cello, "Why Should Eye" is actually reminscent of some of Madonna's less well known ballads—the vocal similarity is daunting. Jeni's "Talk To Me" is an emotionally-drenched vocally strong and serious track with multi-tracked harmonies and even a short spoken part. A certain favourite for almost all audiences, the song builds to tremendous power in the the choruses. The accompanied soundbite on Jeni's website should certainly be heard. When asked about writing the track, she told us, "I wrote the vocal melody and lyrics first, just by taking a few walks down the street and along the beach." She continues, "I find it really helpful to walk and write; it must be something to do with the motion."
Like she said in her own comments about the album, it is the raw live Jeni Saint—those that have caught a live performance must be a very lucky breed. She said, "I really enjoy the close attentive audiences that you get in some clubs but am also really looking forward to playing the bigger venues!" Jeni has encouraged fans to stay tuned to her website for updates. She said, "The website was designed by Titus Sharpe, a young internet entrepreneur. The album cover was designed by a friend of his at H Graphics. I collaborated with both to make sure that we came out with something that really complimented the music and also had a modern image."
Jeni also has a link at the Session Singers In The United Kingdom website. She believes it will improve her recognition in the field and help identify future session opportunities. She told us, "I have strong music reading skills and improvising skills and would like to continue to use them profitably. I have done some session singing and have worked as a session cellist on a couple of occasions - the latter for dance tracks on a demo album."
While we are eagerly awaiting the more extensively arranged and instrumented version of this material, this debut release is a courageous and postive move on Jeni's part; certainly well played—a very nice listen.
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