Jackie Allen - "Tangled"

(Blue Note)
Jackie Allen

Review by Brad Walseth

Heard Jackie Allen performing the Donald Fagen-penned "Do Wrong Shoes" the other day and decided I'd better check out "Tangled" - the fast-rising, Milwaukee-born singer's latest release. If you haven't heard the song - Allen sashays her way through a hilariously sassy and brassy take on the "you done me wrong" song like a modern day Bessie Smith. Punctuated by Orbert Davis' mocking muted trumpet, the song stands out like an updated and welcome return to a bygone era amongst the staid reditions of standards that clutter the atmosphere.

Being a Jackie Allen neophyte, I wasn't sure just what to expect from "Tangled," and as such was somewhat taken aback when the rest of the recording sounded nothing like the Fagen song. Ranging from covers of Van Morrison and Randy Newman to songs from the Rodgers and Hart songbook to originals and embracing everything from gospel, blues and soul to folk and samba, "Tangled" is deep and multilayered, and reveals a singer casting a wide net into diverse waters.

The title itself fascinates me, as I used to get into arguments with an ex about what she percieved to be "tangles" in my life and thinking. She found my inability to achive clarity of purpose troubling - I, in turn, believed that my bouts with self doubt and confusion were simply an aspect of the human condition. We'd all like to be devout and faithful and placid, but the shifts and turns of modern life lead us in many directions and make us the people we are: flawed yet striving for the divine. Appropriately, Allen's choice of tunes on "Tangled" display "tangles" in the relationships between lovers, family, God, nature, the rest of the world, and even ourselves.

Beautifully produced by the seemingly ubiquitous Eric Hochberg, "Tangled" features Allen's inimitable band consisting of husband/songwriter Hans Sturm on bass, expressive guitar colorist John Moulder, and two of the finest keyboardists around in Laurence Hobgood and Ben Lewis - and their sensitive shadings shape the bedrock over which Allen's sweet and airy flights may hover. I'd also like to give a shout-out to drummer Dane Richeson whose superb work was accidentially left uncredited by the label.

The gospel lament of Van Morrison's "When Will I ever Learn" starts things off with an emotional surge (Lewis' churchy organ work is a treat) and has become my theme song, while Moulder and Sturm's plaintive folk song "Coal Grey Eyes" chills like a plunge into the Northern Atlantic sea off a craggy Nova Scotia coastline. "You're Nearer" is a tasteful exercise in bringing Rodgers and Hart melodicism to a modern audience, while the Allen original "If I Had" (one of three co-written with poet Oryna Schiffman) shows the singer can form a conga-line when the party calls for it.

The songs swirl and swim in and out of the center of my consciousness, and right now it is the title track that is encircling those aforementioned entangled synapse. Moulder especially combusts here with his bluesy, edgy fretwork. The soulful "Slip" (yesterday's favorite) is another Allen original that is almost Motown in its approach - with horns supplied by Davis and tenor saxman Steve Eisen; while the day-before-yesterday's fav - "You'll Never Learn" creeps uneasily under your skin and stays with you thanks to Lewis' cocktail piano trills and Allen's slow smoldering delivery. In yet another shocking change of pace, Allen desconstructs another Rogers and Hart number - "Everything I've Got Belongs to You" and the results register another success. "Hot Stone Soup" by Sturm, is a lilting lullaby to a aging parent (in this case, his mother), while the bittersweetly romatic Mandel-Bergman/Bergman waltz "Solitary Moon" may be the best of the ballads and my new favorite (oh, I'm so tangled, aren't I?).

Allen's wistful version of Randy Newman's "Living Without You" brings this profoundly trenchant collection to a close and, if trends hold, will probably be my favorite song tomorrow. Both orderly and fluid in manner and presentation, yet surprising in its quick shifts that encompass many directions, in "Tangled" Allen and her band have given the listener an empathetic and entrancing soundtrack to the travails and chaotic disorder we face every day in this transient, often beautiful and sometimes bewildering world.

Check out Jackie's website

Check out other recent CD reviews

Contact Brad Walseth and JazzChicago.net at bwalseth60@aol.com

Return to jazzchicago home