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Emily Jane White

Ode to Sentience

(Antenna Farm; US: 12 Jun 2012; UK: 15 Feb 2011)

Folk singer Emily Jane White’s last album, Victorian America, was an expansive, lush and bittersweet post-Katrina album that expanded here acoustic songs into larger soundscapes. And while her new record, Ode to Sentience, may not be as ambitious or far reaching, it’s best parts still revel in the same sort of layering and detail. The thumping echo of electric guitars on “The Cliff”, the haunting pianos and strings of “Requiem Waltz”, and the pedal-steel twang of country torch song “Broken Words” all offer compelling shifts on her stately brand of folk. This is an album that is hushed and dark but never defeated or overly melancholy. “I Lay to Rest (California)”, with its mix of throbbing cello and lilting keys, shows both the heartbreak of losing love and the hope of moving on. White’s captivating and barely smoky voice can carry the simpler tunes here, too, like the finger-picked gem “Clipped Wings”, and her lyrics can catch you off guard with their plain-stated beauty (“I’m damaged raw, can’t you see?” she pines on “The Law”). Still the songs that still focus on guitar and voice feel a bit slight in the face of the bigger sounds here. With Victorian America and now Ode to Sentience, White has pushed well past rote singer-songwriter territory, so when she dips back into that well here, you might find yourself tuning out. Luckily, she pushes forward more than she retreats back on this solid record.

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Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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Emily Jane White - The Cliff
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2 Feb 2014
White's fourth album finds her playing bolder music with a daring conceit, but the results are decidedly mixed.
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27 Jul 2010
On the expansive folk of Victorian America, White seems to be just starting to find her voice. So look out for when she really gets a hold of it.
29 Oct 2007
White's songs are quite good, but too often she sounds like singer/songwriters you've already heard.
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