The word nerd always relishes it when an artist gives him a new one. Liz Janes teaches me “tincture” (many definitions, a few archaic or obsolete – that’s so Liz) on two tracks from her third solo album for Asthmatic Kitty, Say Goodbye.
And hellooo, Kitty. Janes was not content to simply serve as her label’s first lady. (Her husband is AK honcho Mike Kaufmann, and the pair are based in Indianapolis.) Raising a brood has been her focus for five years, but these songs, poppier yet clear-eyed, were brooding and bubbling up all the while. We’re all the better for it. Indeed, music lovers, rejoice. If ever the much-abused descriptor “organic” actually applied to an album, it’s this offering from Liz Janes, she of the silver throat and seemingly golden heart.
Rafter Roberts, naturally from labelmate Rafter, helms this project. Yea, always an inbred affair with those Asthmatics: Fellow Kitty cat Chris Schlarb lends capable backing on guitar to supplement Janes’s vision here. (If Asthmatic Kitty’s fiendishly overwrought press release for the album is to be believed, those guitars are “smooth as chocolate gelato.” Well, I’ve been to Rome and… no.)
“I Don’t Believe” sets the tone straightaway, throwback vocals and production providing a sound and vibe in stark contrast to her last effort, a collection of public-domain blues songs with avant-garde collective Create(!), which includes Schlarb. That album showcased the lower register of her voice while this one and previous solo record Poison & Snakes let her higher, probably-more-natural register shine through. It’s in this “Time & Space” (her last song’s title) that Janes sounds most at home.
All is soulful here, with the arrangements and session players propping Janes’s voice up to the forefront, always. She opts to milk her fragile side on a couple tracks, notably the plaintive, soft “Who Will Take Care” and wintry ballad “Bitty Thing,” a pretty dirge set to acoustic strum and ambling xylophone. On “Anchor,” her pipes serve as just that, with precious little musical accoutrement as she sings, “I’m so free, I’ve lost my way/ Tether me down.” In truth she has nothing to fear.
“Trees” stands out here, a fresh foray into both musical and autumnal wonder. Janes’s opening line “I can’t remember how the trees were when they had up all their leaves” gives way to her wedding together lyrics like “We are just creatures, we have been created” and talk of “this force we take turns making names for.” The song could easily be the earth’s own anthem, harmonious and united, and Liz herself sounds lively and newly awakened in the way she sings it. Surely it’s one of her own favorites on Say Goodbye.
The record is rather even-keel on the whole, with seemingly no sonic mountains and valleys; the closest it comes being the minor eruption of sound midway through the otherwise tranquil “Bitty Thing.” As noise goes – and Janes is no stranger to it, formerly part of an improv/noise group during her college years in Washington state – nothing here is on par with the at-times aggressive “Wonderkiller” or “Poison & Snakes,” both from 2004’s Poison & Snakes.
Lean and languid at the same time, Janes’s primary instrument breathes life into an album that’s lone shortcoming may be just that: It’s short. Just 8 of these 11 songs clock in at more than 1:40 each, though a trio of them are notably robust. No doubt she ascribes to that “quality over quantity” mantra, but here’s hoping she doesn’t wait five years more to unearth another hearty crop of songs for faithful ears.