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Fallow Ground
Artist Jan Krist
Label: Yellow Room Records
Time: 12 tracks/48 min.

The last four years have been a time of personal struggle and transition for songwriter Jan Krist, a period where she weathered a move from her long-time stomping ground of Detroit, Michigan to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The stasis and trial of this period is reflected in the title of her new album, Fallow Ground, a near-perfect blend of carefully-crafted words, stirring melodies, and keenly passionate Vocals.

On her ninth record in roughly twice as many years, Krist has shaved off some of the endearing idiosyncrasies of her early work (check out the stuttering harmonica on "Someone" from her debut), while retaining her talent for crafting insightful melodic folk-pop songs.

In tandem with her songwriting prowess, Krist's voice serves as a vital component to her uniqueness as an artist. At its most intense, she tends to hover at the top of her range, gently sliding into falsetto when least expected, and with apparent ease; and cutting off or silently singing the last syllable of a phrase.

"A Song for Hard Times," is prime Krist, and functions as a cry for help, and a reminder that love is a verb. Krist frames it this way: "You say yes, you say yes, oh yes." In "Mama Was a Beauty," Krist manages to write about her family without sounding sticky-sweet or sentimental. In describing her father, she is unrelenting:

He was bright and he was distant, fierce as morning sun
and he died too hard and he died too young.
The pace picks up with "Guilt and Shame," an acoustic rock song with funk and gospel overtones. Enron and "The Terminator" are name-checked, but the indignation expressed is more of a moral nature than a political one. "Flew Away" is a brooding beauty and reminds me of the novel Watership Down, maybe because of the surreal folklore that decorates the tune. In the jazzy "Burn Down Love," Krist cleverly plays on the words "tender" and "tinder" to illustrate the passionate, and combustible, force of romantic love.

The only tune that doesn't work is the lead/title track. A country flavored ditty, Krist plays it straight, and the result sounds lifeless. Thankfully, the remainder of the CD is a far cry from that slight misstep, and is essential Krist.

In denial of its namesake, Fallow Ground, produces a bumper crop, and is evidence that Jan Krist is an artist performing at the pinnacle of her powers.

Gary D. Kersey
August 10, 2010


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