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Jennifer Castle - Castlemusic

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Artist: Jennifer Castle

Album: Castlemusic

Label: No Quarter

Review date: Mar. 29, 2012

Jennifer Castle has a soft, caressing voice, working in a sort of altered country idiom, prone to eerie mountain vibratos and giddy octave-length jumps, accompanied by picked guitar and the occasional twang of pedal steel. Though there are elements of traditional country in her songs — especially slide-twanging “Way of the Crow” and brightly picked “Neverride” — Castle layers her work in a very modern-sounding penumbra of atmospheres. There is a diffuse-ness in the hovering guitar tones, the lingering organ drones of Castle’s compositions. A ghostly chill infuses even the warm, inviting “Summer,” which is at odds with Castle’s warm, natural singing. It’s there in the ominous rattle of pick on guitar strings, in the spectral, half-heard harmonies that thread through the melody, in the way that electric keyboard sounds glisten in a haze of overtones.

Castlemusic is Jennifer Castle’s third album, though the first under her given name (she used the name Castlemusic before) and the first to be released outside Canada. She lives in Toronto, where she is well-connected in the city’s indie scene. You can hear her singing on the Constantines’ Kensington Heights and Fucked Up’s Year of the Pig.

Castle’s voice is the main element in all her songs, a soft sensual invitation to fragile, not-quite-natural constructions of folk, country, rock and electronic music. She sings easily, without strain, stretching out syllables across two, three and four notes, as if feeling out the boundaries of a particular melodic line. Her wide vibrato sounds high and sweet like Meg Baird’s in country-folk “Way of the Crow,” but chilling and banshee-ish as Amber Webber of Black Mountain in the rock setting of “Poor as Him.”

Castlemusic is short, at 31 minutes, but diverse enough to suggest real potential. There are swaggering blues vamps (“Powers”), twanging country shuffles (“Way of the Crow,” “Neverride”) and one all-out rocker (“Poor As Him”). Yet, the songs that stick with you are the ones that are loosely constructed, open-ended and flooded with a sort of radiance — “Summer,” “Misguided” and especially “Remembering.”

This latter song is as plain as anything on the album, just Castle’s voice framed by the occasional run of piano notes. It deals in household imagery, gathering herbs, washing up, pinning one’s hair up over a sunny kitchen sink, and yet its day-to-day-ness underlines the melancholy. As the singer wanders from task to task, she reminds herself occasionally, “and all I have to do today, is get past remembering.” It’s a simple song about ordinary events, warm and welcoming in its way, yet suffused with sadness and a certain amount of mystery — Castlemusic in a nutshell.

By Jennifer Kelly

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