In The Clear

Suzanne Jarvie

Wolfe Island Records, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Writing about music is like writing about a magic show. I can describe what I saw and heard, I can describe how it makes me feel, and I can make some guesses as to how it was created, but there’s a part of it that will always be a mystery. And that’s what makes it special.

The above paragraph showed up unbidden a couple of years ago and I’ve been waiting ever since to figure out where it belonged; turns out I’d had a premonition of Canadian singer-songwriter Suzanne Jarvie’s new album In The Clear.

Jarvie seemingly came out of nowhere in 2014 with her debut album The Spiral Road, winning a 2015 nomination for Best Concept Album from the Independent Music Awards. In the process she was compared with the likes of Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, and these reference points are good ones; at times her deeply personal country-folk tunes seem to marry Harris’ pure, captivating tone with Williams’ lacerating lyricism, a poet whose words cut smoothly right to the bone. (Personally, I hear Mary Chapin Carpenter in there as well.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In The Clear opens up with “Headless Rider,” a full-bodied allegory about love replacing fear that immediately showcases Jarvie’s strong, clear, gorgeous vocals. The quieter yet even more untethered “Carpenter Bay” features subtle electric guitar, beautiful harmonies from Jarvie’s daughter Sara, and a honey-pure lead vocal that invites you to fall into its surrealistic story.

Jarvie detours into a tasty, powerful electric blues for “Point Blank,” featuring label mate Hadley McCall Thackston on harmony vocals, before the luminous title track arrives. “In The Clear” heads out West for an old-school country tune that’s simultaneously a metaphorical, metaphysical journey about seeking grace and peace in the midst of chaos.

Whatever the musical frame constructed by Jarvie and producer Hugh Christopher Brown (Thackston, David Corley, Stephen Stanley Band), the focal point is always Jarvie’s pure, pealing voice. The second half of the album offers jazz-inflected Americana (“The Core”), more traditional country-folk (the dusty “Matryoshka”), the pretty ballad “All In Place” (featuring the great line “You pretend and forget, you make friends with regret”) and the deceptively plaintive “You Shall Not Pass.” The latter is a gently shuffling lament with a very traditional feel that finds Jarvie laying down the law in a voice that’s all at once perfectly calm and full of steel. When she sings “You shall not pass,” there’s no anger in it, just an absolute assurance that she is stating a fact.

Closer “Trilogy” is another highlight, a flowing, three-segment, nearly nine-minute suite that opens as earthy country-folk before gathering drive. Strings enter in the middle section as the song begins to lift off; when the horns come in for the final section it all starts to feel rather Van Morrison, that rumbling, tumbling, mystical/soulful folk-rock thing, a powerful ending for both the song and album.

It’s tempting to delve deeper here into the origins of these songs—the backstory is easily discoverable elsewhere—but in this case, to me, it feels a little like revealing the secret behind the magic. I’d rather just say this: like so many of the truly gifted artists before her, Jarvie has unlocked the deepest magic of all: transforming pain into art. In This Clear is a shining example of music as a healing force.

Rating: B+

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© 2019 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wolfe Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.