White has pushed well past rote singer-songwriter territory on this lushly layered, solid record.
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.