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Jessica Pavone - Hope Dawson is Missing

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Artist: Jessica Pavone

Album: Hope Dawson is Missing

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Aug. 9, 2012

Jessica Pavone’s last album for Tzadik, Songs of Synastry and Solitude, got its name from a Leonard Cohen album. This time around, Pavone’s inspiration came her own discography. Hope Dawson is Missing is titled after its predecessor’s final track, but there’s more than nomenclature that links the two. The lean and unfussy style of composition that marked Songs... returns, with one major addition, the voice of Emily Manzo. Pavone maintained that her last album was comprised of songs, and with the introduction of lyrics to the music’s lyricism, Hope Dawson is Missing bolsters that claim. It’s a simple change, but a prominent one, a more concrete communication of some of the themes and emotions that Songs... wordlessly suggested.

Hope Dawson is Missing is an album built on timeless things. The forms and melodies of the music repeatedly evoke Early music, and the themes and emotions communicated in the lyrics are no less ancient. This album makes more explicit the rueful melancholy at which its predecessor sometimes hinted, an often somber exploration of those things that not a single one of us can escape. Despite her subject matter, Pavone isn’t one for tearjerkers, and only rarely writes with any tinge of schmaltz. Songs often move in an unhurried and stately manner, with Manzo’s voice matching the strings and percussion in straightforward approach and beauty. Her airy vocals aren’t immediately striking, but they add a welcome human element to music that’s almost flawlessly fluid and precise.

Augmenting the Toomai String Quartet with Mary Halverson’s guitar and a rhythm section isn’t as bold a move as adding a singer, but they’re also part of what makes Hope Dawson is Missing more than simply Songs... redux. Pavone probably could have scaled back the change a bit; the percussion in “And at Last” too often runs roughshod over the strings, and I wish Hope wasn’t the only instrumental on the disc, as the music can sometimes feel too subservient to the vocals. Still, it’ll take much more to strip Pavone’s music of its allure. She remains a composer whose pop sensibilities and classical training mesh naturally and assuredly, a writer of unique songs that aren’t too flashy or tricky, just simply well done.

By Adam Strohm

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Songs of Synastry and Solitude

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