Thursday, 22 June 2017

Jeni Hankins - The Oxygen Girl : Jewell Ridge Records

Nothing lasts forever is one of life’s more philosophical observations and it doubles up as the title of the most pertinent track on this album. THE OXYGEN GIRL is the debut solo release from Jeni Hankins who is better known in music circles as one half of the former country folk duo Jeni and Billy. When time was called on all facets of their relationship, an abundance of songs was likely to follow. In a display of amicability, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ is actually a co-write between Jeni and Billy; a lone symbol on an album which clearly signposts the direction where Jeni is taking her life and career.

This direction is east across the Atlantic from the US to the UK and a strapline to this album could be a love letter to migration. All the folk singer credentials are in place, but the general feel is more European than Appalachian with the specific twang of her home state diluted among an assortment of songs that span the continents in their theme, setting and sentiment. The instrumentation used on the album does keep one foot on the American side with fiddle, banjo and steel still making the dominant sound.

Knowing a little about the background, taking the twelve tracks with a heavy dose of the lyric booklet and trying to understand the inner subtleties of this record will all aid to the enjoyment. While there are probably higher impact tracks from her previous material, the importance to Jeni of this record should not be under estimated and it should be a signal that this is a just an opening point to a new chapter in her career.

The album is a lyric laden body of work, packed with several fascinating tales, stories and heart rendering personal musings. It can be construed that there are a number of push and pull factors infiltrating the songs. Those with an Anglo perspective begin with opening pair of ‘The Shipping News’ and ‘The British Invisible Mending Service’. The first of these comes across as a navigation to love, while the other presents a metaphorical broken heart in need of repairing to an age-old tradition. The capital of Jeni’s new home also gets a mention in ‘Dance on the Stars’.

Two extrovert and explicit story songs make a grab for the listener’s attention. ‘Palomino Girls’ deals with the hopes and thoughts of certain Las Vegas workers, often giving them celestial trappings. ‘The Oxygen Girl’ is an intriguing tale of life, relationships and encounters within a circus community. Follow the lyrics carefully and the jigsaw will be complete.

Another interesting song is the listed album closer where Jeni pens an open ode to her father in ‘Hey Dad’. There are faint strains of slipping back into a stronger accent during this track, intentionally or not. This just falls short of being the album finale as a secret track lasting around twenty seconds emerges to provide closure.

Being a previous advocate of the music of Jeni Hankins has definitely had an impact on assessing the wealth of THE OXYGEN GIRL. Grasping the message has made accessing this record a smoother process. However there is ample content in the three facets of lyrics, soundtrack and vocals to attract new fans. The strength of her music has often been in the soul of the storied song and this aspect continues to flourish as Jeni completes this life changing transformation. ‘Nothing lasts forever except a song’ echoes in the album’s most poignant track and it is the gift of communicating via this medium, which continues to make the Jeni Hankins an artist to believe in.

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