“Carnival of Hopes” – Jane Kramer

5 stars (out of 5)

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Jane Kramer - 'Carnival of Hopes' - cover (300dpi)I’ve got this feeling about 2016; any year that starts with an album as beautiful as Jane Kramer’s “Carnival of Hopes” can’t really go wrong. This is a stunningly good album where every detail is right; the arrangements are varied, the melodies are powerful and Jane’s vocal delivery moves effortlessly from pure and clear to cracking with emotion. As for the songs, they’re raw, honest, self-deprecating and poetic, as Jane explains: ‘“Good Woman” is the song you write when your lover kicks you out of the house and you’re half drunk on cheap box wine in a crappy motel room staring at yourself in the mirror under the fluorescent bathroom light, you can’t help but be honest then.’

The album’s two centrepieces, “Good Woman” and “Carnival of Hopes” are its two longest songs; they’re not long because of any self-indulgence, but because that’s how long they need to be to tell the story. Both titles are deliberately misleading; the opening line of the first is “I’m not a good woman” (we might disagree on that) and the second is about a “busted carnival of hopes”. Throughout the album, Jane Kramer uses a lyrical sleight of hand to almost constantly portray herself in a self-deprecatory and even self-denigrating light. The opener “Halfway Gone” sets the tone with the line ‘I walk like a Clydesdale horse – I cuss and carry on’ and the album’s lyrics continue in the same vein until “Truth Tellin’ Lies” and “My Dusty Wings” finally suggest an attempt at redemption and renewal.

The Appalachian instrumentation of banjo and fiddle features strongly on the album along with Dobro, but the stylings vary immensely across the album from a stripped-back version of Tom Petty’s “Down South” with multi-tracked harmonies and a Celtic feel, to the New Orleans horns meets Rickie Lee Jones vibe of “Why’d I Do That Blues” with its trumpet and trombone solos (you could sell it to me on a good trombone solo alone).

The narrative of the album is one of moving forward, starting with lows and moving steadily along to the positive ending, taking in images of frontier life along the way with animals, fishing, maps, engines (and of course drinking) acting as metaphors throughout the superbly crafted and intensely personal lyrics. It may sound laid-back and almost casual at times, but these are the songs of a very gifted and honest writer.

“Carnival of Hopes” isn’t just a great Americana album, it’s a great album where the quality of the songwriting and performance transcend any concept of genre.

Available now at CD Baby.