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CD REVIEW: Jana - 'Smoke & Mirrors'
By Steve Allat - 03/23/2004 - 02:56 PM EST

Artist: Jana
Album: 'Smoke & Mirrors'
CD Review: Label: Independent
Tracks: 11
Released: 2003
For Fans Of:: Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Chicago
Fav Track: To Know, Lucky Day, Darn Right, For You.

First of all, you need to know that in listening to this CD you are going to hear sounds and stylings which cross many musical borders - from light, ethereal pop to harder-edged pop-rock. Along the way, you'll notice an overall infusion of light jazz elements, and of course, Jana's soaring vocals.

As the CD winds it's way through 11 tracks, there are three things you will notice:
1. Jana's vocals are beautiful, strong and melodic, although sometimes a bit sparse.
2. The musicianship on the tracks, all the work of one man, Jeff Tweeter, is absolutely topnotch.
3. The production is strong, even and sensitive to the music and the vocals.

The songs that I like the most were actually the ones where the vocals were sparse, as this open, atmospheric style suits Jana's vocals and lyrics. She sings about love & life in a very simple and straightforward way, so much so that one of my favourite tracks is the final cut, which features just Jana, a synthesized loop and some hand-claps. Despite all of the amazing instrumentation on the rest of the CD, I felt that I 'heard' Jana the most on this track.

It's hard to be critical when every detail of a CD sounds great, but the blending of the details just doesn't hit home. I feel that if these 2 continue to work together, they could meet in a very powerful place, and Jana's voice and Jeff's playing will be heard in a more complete way. Where they do meet on this CD, the songs are very strong - 'For You' and 'Lucky Day' being standouts. When they don't meet, as on 'Enchanted Minds', what you hear is a great musical foundation juxtaposed against beautiful vocals - but sounding like 2 songs that don't quite fit together.

To me, this CD is both very very good, and also very much in need of some good 'feng shui'. It reminds me of a room with a lot of stuff in it and in need of clearing - these songs have a lot of music going on, and when that happens, it takes great care to get it just right. Blending so many elements is a big task, and maybe sometimes less is more. A couple times, some of the added instrumentation seemed a bit too much or out of place and unnecessary. Serving the song is an art unto itself, and Jana's words and melodies already carry most of the tunes very well.

I would recommend this CD highly to anyone who is interested in a laid-back pop/jazz feeling or to anyone who appreciates very high-quality playing in that genre. For the rest of us, I think Jana and company can deliver a more cohesive set of songs and I look forward to it.

Contact: Jeff Thornton
Website: Maple Island Records

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