Record Review: “Only The Moon” by Jenie Thai

“Only The Moon” by Jenie Thai reviewed by Bill Monahan

When a touring artist makes a debut CD they can go one of two ways:  they can try to reproduce as accurately as possible what they offer as a live performer so that when people buy the CD at a gig it will bring back memories of a good time; or they can, as Jenie Thai has done with “Only The Moon”, record music that can touch a listener in the privacy of their own headspace in a way that a performance in a noisy bar can’t accomplish.

Jenie Thai’s debut CD is emotional, moving and soulfully transcendent.  It might not be what you would expect from a performer who uses her keyboard chops and expressive voice to wake up a live audience and get them bopping to a selection of blues and R&B tunes, albeit done in her own signature style.

The tone is set with the first song, “The Lights Are Low”.  Like all the songs on the CD it is a beautifully engaging melody and has more than a hint of melancholy.  This CD is a testament to loneliness, and the effort to retain optimism through it.  She has a bewitching ability to create an evocative melody that sounds unlike anything else you’ve heard and creates the ideal setting for a voice that manages to soar without losing its inherent sadness.

To preview or download this album, click on the album cover

It’s always a mistake to assume that the emotions related in the songs of a singer-songwriter are autobiographical but it’s very tempting here, partially because of the consistency of emotions and partly because of the nature of the lyrics.  They are not glib.  At first they seem a little awkward, not always the meter or rhyme, or even metaphor that you might expect.  But with repeated hearings they seem ingenuous more than anything, the simple voice of a true heart.  But what a voice!  So vulnerable and innocent, it speaks to your own fears and doubts.

It can be a little worrying.  Her admission of secret excesses in “Out of Line” and the anguish of the line “I’d rather be dead,” in “Cold Throne” make you want to gather her in your arms and say, “Don’t worry, it will be all right.”  But she does that herself, in some of the songs that sooth her lonely heart, like the first song and the extremely beautiful “Your Sweet Lullaby”.  “Follow me into my dreams,” she says, a siren song that is hard to resist.

There are times that come close to the high spirits of her live show, in songs like “Out if Line” and “So Lovely”, with the boogie beat and the barrelhouse blues feel that she is so good at, and extended piano solos in the best tradition of the blues keyboard masters.  And at the other end of the spectrum, there are the songs that reveal an impressive composer of melodies, like the title song, “Only The Moon” whose long piano introduction sounds like something Mozart would have written.  And then it, too, becomes incredibly sad with its short lyric part.  “How many nights are lost on me,” and the ending, “I’m falling…down.”

In the middle of the CD a pair of songs are especially evocative. “Lonely Tonight” has her in a dark room looking through the cracked window at the house of gold across the street, filled with longing.  “I’m more hungry for the night than I’ve ever been, the leftovers of love are starving me.”  And her voice soars tragically in the next song where she sings, “I’ve been bruised, beaten and worn but never this broken before.”

There is a glimmer of hope in “Let Down Your Love” where she is Rapunzel locked in her lonely tower and a voice below calls up to her, but she moves farther away, her voice wailing desperately as it recedes irretrievably into the distance.

The sadness of this album is that lonely kind that makes you feel better by the way it moves your heart.

Jenie Thai is a young artist working toward greatness.  She’s currently recording her second album and on her website she says, “I’m extremely proud of my new material and my overall sound has grown a lot since my last album.”  Her website contains a PledgeMusic that allows fans to support her journey directly by purchasing advance downloads of the album, and a variety of other items from handwritten lyric sheets to house concerts and even a cover version of your favourite song.  Check it out at www.jeniethai.ca.

And when you come tonight to her concert at Meaford Summer Concert Series, pick up a copy of “Only The Moon” to save for your own lonely nights.

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