Jenny Gillespie’s introspective, considered song writing is well suited to folk, which is why Belita, her latest offering in a line of experimental releases, feels like a very natural progression. She’s pared back the instrumentation that in the past seemed to be bogging her beautiful voice down and has settled into a simplicity of style that sounds as effortless as her singing. That’s not to say the instrumentation lacks skill. Gillespie’s new-found finger-picking guitar style plays delicately off against the piano, violin and Marc Ribot’s electric guitar accompaniment. However, it’s a shame about the introduction of the unimaginative drum backing that creeps in on ‘Mariposa’ and ‘Sunshine Blood’ – the other tracks prove that the melody can carry itself along perfectly will without it.
Overall, Belita is coloured by restraint. It is pretty, graceful, full of imagination. The EP opens with a vocal duet featuring Sam Amidon in a collaboration that grew from a spark when he heard Gillespie covering one of his songs. The wispy harmonies they touch on are reminiscent of the melancholic musings of Tazio & Boy, but with an underlying strength that is constantly tempered. It is not until the chorus that Gillespie’s trademark whimsical pop-punctuated vocals really come into their own and the quality of her voice becomes apparent.
‘Wooden Bench’ is a lovely track that is both strongly reminiscent of her beloved Joni Mitchell and also a link back to her 2010 release Kindred. However, this slides a little too easily into ‘Mariposa’, another gentle, low-key offering that lacks the soaring chorus to lift it onto a par with the preceding songs. Somehow the subtle shifts in dynamics and instrumentation that so animate the rest of Belita are missing here.
Fortunately, that’s the low point of the EP. The final two tracks have a hypnotic quality to them. ‘Sunshine Blood’ once again threads strands of folk with pop and post-rock instrumentation, repeated piano cadences holding it all together like the stitching on a silk skirt. The electric guitar counter-melody that sneaks in towards the end is an unexpected sound that nonetheless complements the rest.
Finally, ‘Cheating Song’ features a captivating melody line underpinned with Gillespie’s accomplished acoustic guitar, picking out arpeggios in harmony with the trilling violin. It is if anything the most graceful track of the EP, deeply melancholic, bringing to life the autumnal mists evoked in the lyrics. Layering of instrumentation builds and falls, builds and falls away into the close of the track.
Belita is well put together, beautifully executed and a perfect calm at the end of a busy day, an enjoyable step along Gillespie's engrossing journey of perpetual reinvention.
7Ruth Singleton's Score