[14 December 2011]
Nick Jaina’s sophisticated songs many not have been begging to be recorded by female artists and compiled onto one LP, but, now that he’s crossed that line, you can only wonder one thing: What took him so long?
After Jaina’s last release, the typically fine A Bird in the Opera House, the Portland, Oregon-based artist discovered he had a few extra tunes. What to do with them? Give them away as a free EP? He’d done that with his covers album Sleeping on the Covers and while it wouldn’t have been a surprise or a disappointment, it probably would not have been the bold step that The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone became. He took an initial risk, recording one song with Laura Gibson, then knew he could continue writing for and inviting other female vocalists to participate.
This 10-song collection couples Jaina with Gibson, Kaylee Cole, Johanna Kunin, Myshkin, Audie Darling, and others to stellar results. His highly literate, Weill-esque songs are treated with exceptional care. And the care Jaina and his cast took in preparing these songs is evident –word is that a few songs underwent serious transformations once he found the right vocalist for the task.
And about those tracks?
The record opens with “When the Blind Man Rings That Bell” (featuring Kaylee Cole) two minutes and 16 seconds of purely amazing and understated music that feels as much like a hymn as it does a pop song. It’s followed by “You Were So Good to Me” (with Jolie Holland), a dark but seductive melody with a pitch perfect performance from Holland, whose phrasing has rarely sounded as impeccable as it does here. (Wishing for a full collaborative album between Jaina and her may be asking too much, but one can certainly dream.)
Luzelena Mendoza (Y La Bamba) and Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) sing two of the album’s best songs: “Once But Never Again” and “Whiskey Riddle”, respectively. Amanda Spring (Point Juncture WA) aces “Son of a Preacher Man”.
Each track reminds us of Jaina’s strengths as a composer and arranger, and, many of the pieces here, including “James” (with Johanna Kunin) and “Awake When I’m Sleeping” (with Audie Darling) place him in a rarefied class of songwriters as he demonstrates abilities that are often on par with the likes of Cole Porter and a clear-eyed Tom Waits.
Jaina further distinguishes himself from his peers with this album and demonstrates that the full depth of his talent appears to be immeasurable. His work is smart, mature, spirited, and sincere, qualities that place him both behind his time and slightly ahead of it. Moreover, he’s the kind of performer who is not eager to repeat himself – he’s apparently working on ballet and choral music at the moment – which makes it all the more interesting to follow what he’ll do next, how he’ll rise to the challenges that await both him and us.