Jennifer Crook’s EP ’Black Fly’ weaves an interesting path of musical influences, with harp and Americana styles coming together to create the final sound. Mixed with that core are the varied instruments of her band The Hawthorns, including cello and hammered dulcimer, and her special guests Emma Hooper, Miranda Sykes and Robert Harbron.
In six tracks we journey through the poetic (quite literally with a version of Thomas Hardy’s poem ’Apples’), romanticism, and the live Jennifer Crook experience. All the tracks were recorded live, but ’Ribbons of Green / The Dream Waltz’ has the extra excitement of the live audience, and that extra electricity is palpable in the tune set.
The title track ’Black Fly’ has a wonderful banjo accompaniment, and a theme of acceptance yet perseverance. This seems to be one of the themes of the album, songs that push back against situations, but don’t always win the fight.
’The Darkling Thrush’ is a striking song, with a different style to the rest of the album, and wonderful moments of a capella harmony singing. Unfortunately I was somehow reminded of Eminem’s Dido sample from his ’Stan’ track when first listening to this, and the reference has never left me. Apologies if I’ve now passed this on!
For me the EP really comes alive on ’Handmade Life’ and ’Cowboys’, both songs embracing the American folk influence. ’Handmade Life’ is gorgeously bouncy in its tale of escaping the nine-to-five for the "shoestring life". The lyrics romanticise the simple country life over the city (I imagine myself on hay bales, surrounded by clear blue skies) but without becoming trite or saccharine. In contrast ’Cowboys’ tells of a woman trying to give up her love for her cowboy, who will always be leaving her. Jennifer successfully portrays the complex, conflicting emotions in her singing, and the more paired back instrumentation gives further weight to the story.
It is a shame, with the diversity of tone on this EP that I’m not listening to a full album. There are many facets to Jennifer Crook, and six tracks is not enough to explore them all.Liz Osman
Recorded live with ’The Hawthorns’ at Kensington Studios (Josh Clark’s house) on 13th July 2009.
Jennifer Crook ~ Singing, Guitar, Harp, Banjo
with The Hawthorns:
• Bethany Porter ~ Cello, Singing, Violin
• Maclaine Colston ~ Hammered Dulcimer, Singing
• Josh Clark ~ Percussion, Singing, ProTools
and Special Guests:
• Robert Harbron ~ Concertina, Mandolin, Guitar, Singing
• Miranda Sykes ~ Double Bass
• Emma Hooper ~ Viola
1. Black Fly
2. Handmade Life
5. The Darkling Thrush
6. Ribbons of Green / The Dream Waltz (Live)