Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Right at the end of this hushed album, Wellington singer-songwriter Chambers adapts the old gospel-country hand-clap This Little Light of Mine into something very different. She takes it right down to an intimate whisper over piano (Peter Hill) and guitar. It sounds like it has been recorded in the empty front parlour of an abandoned home where there are dust-covered family photos on the wall.
The way she sings the few spare words is extraordinary. She imbues them with a painful history which suggested a bruised past she is coming out of. "One piece of paradise, I'm going to make it mine", she sings in a voice which ever so subtly contains a hint that the promise of peace will be within her grasp.
At four minutes long you'd think it would outstay its welcome, but her voice is so freighted with feeling you are engrossed.
And on the eight songs before this Chambers confirms her reputation as a singer of remarkable interpretive powers and a writer who brings insight and refinement to her lyrics.
She opens with the title track which has that same sense of historic sadness that she pulls into Let It Shine: "It's a heaviness this heart of mine, I'm packing it in, gonna leave it behind, keeps giving me trouble, keeps falling in love . . . I'm gonna be stoney, gonna be cold . . ." It fades with "Who needs a heart, it just makes you cry."
Yet it is that same heart which is there in what follows (Little Heart with "can't you set your hopes a little closer to the ground"). In the more edgy Full of Fire -- with moving backing vocals by Holly Beals - she offers hope and her battered wisdom to someone equally hurt by love with "if you're lonely . . . . say my name . . . hold on to me".
These are emotionaly affecting songs made more powerful by their vocal and musical understatement. The instrumentation is spare throughout, the songs have dark corners but a strong thread of empathy (My Shadow is My Shade with it classic chord changes, Only Your Arms) because the singer suggests she has been there too. (Haight St where she offers "when we're sleeping spine to spine we could light up the night, it's a shame my heart already has a home.")
And a highpoint among many is the string-elevated Hopeful Dreamer which is imbued with a spirit of hope, redemption and optimism: "If you are sending out a call give it all you've got . . .you are a little flame, not a big mistake."
And to follow that with Let It Shine lifts the final third of this album onto another, higher plane.
Subtle production, understated arrangements, heart-touching lyrics, and rare delivery which invites you in close.
Jess Chambers' light really does shine.
Jess Chambers answers the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire here.