Gina Clowes – True Colors
True Colors, the first album release from Gina Clowes, is an auspicious opening to the solo career of the banjo player for Chris Jones and the Night Drivers who formerly played with Bud’s Collective. The dozen songs included on this studio offering bristle with life and energy while demonstrating a sharp intelligence and ear for making the form sound completely modern. The Virginia native, and member of the wildly talented Furtado family, astutely mixes traditional numbers among her more current interpretation of bluegrass music and strands of swing and jazz even work their way into the performances. The album contains an assortment of instrumentals accompanying her lyrically driven numbers and those instrumentals are every bit as memorable thanks to Clowes’ gifts as a melodic songwriter. Unlike many working in this style, Clowes’ album features only one cover and the remaining eleven originals touch on familiar genre touches while still showing unquestionable individuality. True Colors will mesmerize both the casual fan and purist alike; the latter will certainly recognize, early on, that Clowes is a true student of the form.
Her ability to revamp bluegrass with a modern sensibility comes to full flower on the first song. “Puppet Show” has some powerfully worded lyrical content that Clowes seems to relish putting over and the layered backing pushing the arrangement leaves its mark on the listener. “Saylor’s Creek” is a much different, more traditionally minded number with patient development and richly colored fiddle playing from Malia Furtado. The tune has a basis in historical fact and it says something about the quality of writing that goes into an instrumental capable of capturing some suggestion of such events in music. “Looking for Sunshine” begins with a slowly unraveling banjo melody before Clowes’ vocal comes into the picture with the same sensitivity that defines much of her work on True Colors. It’s difficult to not feel yourself gently carried away by the graceful mid-tempo amble of this spiritually minded tune. Clowes’ banjo playing is more than capable of carrying the day and does with great stylishness. The relentless musical push Clowes and her collaborators whip up on “Dust Can Wait” makes for one of the best instrumentals on the album.
“For Better or For Worse” marks the first use of a guest singer on True Colors and Heather Berry Mabe’s voice is similar, in some respects, to Clowes’ own making this a seamless listening experience. It’s also one of the most introspective and serious songwriting moments on the release. “The Wayward Kite” will surprise a lot of listeners with its turn towards classical inclinations and fiddle player Malia Furtado, Clowes’ sister, offers up one of the more impressive performances on the album. “Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak” is the second of the two songs featuring guest vocalists and Scott Brannon’s singing summons up a convincing retro feel. “La Puerta Del Diablo” is the album’s final instrumental and has a much more exotic musical feel than any of the earlier instrumental tracks. True Colors is a huge beginning for any kind of solo career Gina Clowes is aiming to craft for herself and a collection without a single hole in it. The twelve songs on this studio album are as good as anything you’ll hear in the Americana genre and are forward looking enough, plus individual, to never risk imitation.