11 Aug 2022

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Jenny Mitchell - Album Review: Tug of War

12 Jul 2022 // A review by Roger Bowie

Jenny Mitchell releases her third album on July 22nd. It’s Tug of War, a collection of sweet songs which see Jenny wear her heart on her sleeve and talk about all the pushes and pulls of a still young life where “things don’t always work out the way they do in your mind”.

It’s also her first release under progressive Australian label Cooked Vinyl, an outfit which shows a keen eye and ear for the down under expressions of that universal and eclectic genre bending thing called Americana.

Recorded, inevitably, remotely, and therefore not instantaneously as might happen within the constraints of expensive studio time, Tug of War has a rich and layered feel as the value of time to tinker comes through in subtlety and nuance. And banjo. My goodness the banjo has either just arrived, or I have only just started to listen, as the banjo is gloriously ubiquitous in the new Kiwi Americana albums which have been released this year. You’ll know them, just check out my reviews. But not yet, let’s not detract from Jenny, because if she were a bird, she might fly away, except she’s still the homing pigeon type, and will always return to the nest, but as long as we pay attention!

If You Were a Bird opens the albumin catchy and breezy style as Jenny evokes the tug of war emotions which drive early romantic experiences and the heartache and heartbreak of finding the one, and settling down yet still flying away. Words are lost in gentle harmony and then reappear in glorious subjunctive, if, if only if.

The big blue skies of Texas inspire a more sombre tone as Jenny tries to Make Peace with Time and the banjo emerges, a struggle with moments of despondency and a need to straighten up, button up girl, which might be an ancestral trait or an old-fashioned way to deal with things which is no longer valid.

No longer valid indeed, as a song for our times follows, the supremely stupendous Trouble Finds a Girl, both a warning (to those starting out) and a paean to the increasing emancipation of women in the music business. Spearheaded by Tami Neilson, who shares vocals and writing credits for this song, Trouble Finds a Girl is an anthem to all women in music but especially country (as evidenced by the prejudice still apparent in American country radio). Watch out, be careful, but don’t stand for it. Oh, the other thing is this is a great song. Probably song of the year. Supported also by Australian superstar Fanny Lumsden, New Zealand superstar Kaylee Bell, and the Mitchell family superstars, simply, a great song for our times.

Banjo lead, picking banjo, from the Appalachians or the Hokonui, Somehow could be Kaia Kater or Rhiannon Gideons, but, no, it’s Jenny Mitchell stretching out her vocals, howling at the moon, stomping round the yard, moonshine on the still, guitar on the move as the song builds and builds but don’t forget the banjo.

Lucy is a song we’ve heard performed in concert for a while now, and one of the three songs already released, with a superb cameo from Liv Cochrane on support vocals and also as Lucy herself in the video. Lucy is of course Lucille Ball, with whom Jenny has created an imaginary connection to reflect on human nature and the futility of envy. It’s a very sweet song.

Things liven up with another warning song, Snakes in the Grass. Watch out, little sisters, big sister has your back!!

We’re just past halfway, and already the variety of the offering is simply stunning, and there’s more to come. The quietly reflective Holding, another personal contemplation on life and romance and if it happens, just if, would she still be holding out? And life is just a Tug of War between the heart and the mind, but, Jenny, you are an old mind in a young body (I’m sure I got that wrong in my interview, sorry) and things just don’t always work out the way they do in your mind.

Tomorrow imagines a period of amnesia and whether after recovery she would let herself back in to her old life. But of course, she would, and she does, in the two final tracks, with a tribute to her father, the laconic Ron, who doesn’t need words to convey his feelings, Love Isn’t Words, and, to close out the record an old song about her grandfather and his roots, the very tussock country which we celebrate every year in Gore. The Bush & The Birds is only available on the physical releases (and there will be vinyl) so you streamers will have to queue up and hear the live version, no doubt with Maegan and Nicola in splendid harmony.

Tug of War is produced by Tasmania’s Matt Fell and also features the guitar and banjo playing of Rod McCormack and the voices of Maegan and Nicola along with those already mentioned and represents another precious progressive step in the journey of the jewel which is Jenny Mitchell.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Jenny Mitchell

Hailing from the deep South of New Zealand, Jenny is a songwriter who blends Country, Folk & Americana into her own captivating style.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Jenny Mitchell


Tug of War
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Year: 2018
Type: Album
The Old Oak
Year: 2015
Type: Album

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