Somewhat concurrently to stepping into the banjo slot for Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, Gina Clowes released her first solo recording, a 12-track release of wide musical variety and very impressive performances. With the exception of the lullaby “Beautiful Land” penned by Anthony Newley, Clowes wrote the remaining six songs and five instrumentals. There’s the gypsy jazz grind of the opener “Puppet Show,” featuring one of the few marimba solos you’ll probably hear in bluegrass, along with some growling and attacking banjo from Clowes and her mellow yet defiant vocal declaration about no longer playing victim to her love’s controlling nature. That’s echoed a track later by the instrumental “Saylor’s Creek” with its minor-to-major, tension-to-release intro and Dawg-grass theme, and echoed yet again on track 11, “La Puerta del Diablo.”
Then, there are a couple of jazzy tracks. “True Colors” is a vibrant love song on which the players swing madly in and around Clowes’ winsome vocals and is highlighted by some multi-track harmonies. “Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak” is a fine Western Swing tune led by vocalists Scott Brannon and Chris Henry. Also here is a chamber music inspired duet with cello player Chris Sexton on “The Wayward Kite,” on which the colors and tempos shift so often, it’s like a kite in motion. Clowes rounds out the highlights with a poignant “I’ll Stay Home” backed only by her guitar.
Clowes is a rising major talent on the banjo, as her stint with The Night Drivers indicates. This recording emphatically underscores that, along with her wealth of talent as a songwriter. Backing her, among many, are fiddler Malia Furtado, bassist Marshall Wilborn, guitarist Chris Luquette, and mandolinist Jack Dunlap. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden NC, 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BW