Jennifer Daniels – Dive and Fly – (2001 Tntrees)
By Ellen Rawson
Jennifer Daniels may hail from the American South, but “Dive and Fly,” the title track and opening number from her new release, has a Celtic influence. Perhaps it’s Patrick Belden’s pipes that contribute to this feeling, as her voice takes on Loreena McKennitt-like lilts on the higher notes, with a lower range occasionally reminiscent of Phoebe Snow.
“Ohio,” the second song, feels as if the vocals are rushing along to compete with the song’s beat. It’s true that the words talk about frenzy and “dancing so fast they can never get their fingers on you,” but sometimes the frenzy is a bit much. Daniels does play with interesting lines sure to hasten state rivalries, such as “the darkest day that Denver ever had was still brighter than the brightest in Ohio.” Her voice shows hints of Dar Williams, particularly on the slower lyrics that are more reflective. “December” also has moments when Daniels seems to rush, but aided by Dave LaBruyen’s cello, she’s heading towards dramatic crescendos in this emotional song.
What makes her songs stand are is the emotional quality in her voice along with lyrics, such as those in “December,” that go inside their characters’ minds and hearts. “Try to Find Me” isn’t a particularly complicated number musically, but her voice makes it sound more complex. She can quaver in her high range, sound just a little gritty on the lowest notes, and her medium range can come across as a melodious conversation. While the title track has a Celtic feel, the others prove Daniels to be a folk-inspired singer-songwriter. Seemingly simple lyrics, such as those on “He Dances,” take on a mystical quality with lines such as “I’ll be free if you try your wildest dreams on me.”
The CD cover photo picks up on that mysticism; Daniels looks like a gypsy focusing on her true love. Inside the booklet, however, there’s a photo of her sitting against what appears to be a older, wooden building, clutching a mandolin to her chest. Is she the gypsy in Lookout Mountain, Georgia? A southern gypsy who can rock in a Sarah McLachlan-style on “Day to Live”? Apparently. On “Widening Sky,” the album’s slow, pensive closing track, she sings of “autumn on Lookout Mountain” and how she “heard the cry of the unidentified wail in me.” That wail deep inside of her actually is melodic and reassuring, creating a strong independently released album that might help gain her a larger audience.