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Jennifer McLaren: Night Light

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If we can’t have a new Kate Bush album this year, then Jenifer McLaren’s debut album could fill that void nicely.

As a music fan, I have a Holy Grail: it’s called the next Kate Bush album.

For the uninitiated, Bush is the best popular music singer/songwriter on the planet.(“Popular” is an inadequate—and somewhat inaccurate—term for her music, as she has been popular mainly everywhere but in the United States, unless you count her song “This Woman’s Work,” which was the high point of an awful mid-’80s movie starring Kevin Bacon). Bush’s output, however, has often fallen prey to her perfectionism, with the intervals between albums lengthening with each successive release until now, after 10 years have passed since her last album, the poorly received The Red Shoes.

If we can’t have a new Kate Bush album this year, then Jenifer McLaren’s debut album, Night Light, could fill that void nicely. Though her voice doesn’t have the range or the delicacy to match Bush’s, McLaren achieves a similar sensibility with thoughtful lyrics and melodic arrangements. Vocally, she bears a strong resemblance to labelmate Sarah McLachlan, with an airy wispiness that sounds more at home on McLaren than it does on the latter.

Although the album artwork leans heavily toward the gothic (drawings by the singer herself of insects and spiders abound), the music itself leans more toward light than night, with infectious melodies that linger after you’ve forgotten where you heard them. That can be a problem, too, particularly when the lyrics are so oblique as to be almost nonsensical. The song “Cowboys and Angels,” for example, is an unforgettable tune, heavy in symbolism that masks its true meaning about the choices people make in life (“will you walk away/or will white horses come for you” is probably as concrete as it gets). This differs from the straight-shooting poignancy of songs like “Monday Was Torture” or the darkness of “Animals,” which equates a man with a beast but leaves you wondering whether the singer is the stalker or the one being stalked. McLaren shines best, though, when her voice and the piano are center stage, like on “Go!”

Most of these songs were written when McLaren was younger, and that earnestness shows. But she’s better than a lot of young singer/songwriters of the same age (take Jewel, for instance). Night Light is an auspicious start, though, and promises better things in the future.

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