Jo Gabriel – Hunting Down the Ceremony

Jo Gabriel - Hunting Down the Ceremony

Singer-songwriter/pianist Jo Gabriel releases a 2-disc, 32-song compilation that spans most of her musical career, presenting a captivating collection that includes many rare tracks as well as newly-released songs, and features Jo’s airy, yearning, restlessly wavering vocals and her delicately flowing and stirring piano-playing (in essence, her second voice).

Most of the songs come from Jo’s out-of-print albums Tinderbox (2002), The Unreachable Sky (2003; recently reissued with additional tracks), Jo’s debut Lying In the Evidence of Love(1995), the dead album project Heavy Gray Line(1996; recorded in a New York City studio, but never released), and her most commercial album, Island(2005), as well as one-off songs and scores for various film projects.

The first disc is entitled The Hidden Voice and features songs from Heavy Gray Line, new songs, and various film projects, while the second disc is named The Mirror Image and mainly includes songs from Jo’s previously-released albums, some of which are now unavailable.

The bittersweet “Queer” starts off the first disc in fine form with two contemplative lines of piano, one mid-range and one lighter, matching the tone of Jo’s vocals, at times pouring forth like water, adding to the emotional delivery of Jo’s lyrics. Her unvarnished vocals keen with the sharp airiness of a Kate Bush or Tori Amos, trembling like the recording of a seismograph as she sings with longing “I’ve been here / I’ve been waiting for something…”

The Tori Amos-like confessional “Objects in the Mirror” (which can be found on Island and Heavy Gray Line) works in antique-sounding, tinkling piano notes and lower piano runs that tingle the spine, with Jo sweeping from hushed whispers to sharp-cut declarations as she sing-talks “I’ve been sneaking up behind myself / haunting my life like a good little ghost.”

“Hunting Down The Ceremony” sports a fuller sound with a mix of piano, synths, and drums, but they are undermined by a measured beat that slows the tempo down too much.  Jo’s vocals, however, are as lovely as ever, and her sweet tone lifts up the song as she sings “You’ve been held by fear/ You’ve been held by me too.” on the verses and “Maybe I’ll let you go.” on the chorus.

Jo contributed “If Not” to Steve Balderson’s film Watch Out (2008) and its gentle, introspective, dancing piano notes recall the poignant piano notes of instrumental “Promenade Sentimentale” from the French film Diva. Jo’s vocals are torchy, like Julee Cruise, and sung from far off, to the point where they float away by the end of the song.

“Venus In Chains” (Heavy Gray Line) carries a more traditional verse, chorus, verse structure with flowing piano runs, drums, a little cymbal, and a Tori Amos-like emotional pull to Jo’s vocals, where she scales upwards from a hushed softness to an exclamatory, clear tone. “Emily Laughed”, also from Heavy Gray Line, continues with the pop song structure and includes piano, measured drum beat, occasional cymbal strike, bass guitar, and some reverb guitar burn, with Jo singing in a plainer, straightforward tone.

The spare, but compelling new song “Testify” is slower paced, but features Jo singing in a breathy, intimate manner like Kate Bush and Jeff Ladd intoning “whisper” and “I’ve been here before” in a deep register, gliding among Jo’s urgent, keening vocals.

The second disc begins with “Wash Away” (on Island and Tinderbox), and it starts off with the rat-tat-tat roll of marching drums, a sinuous synth line, and then contemplative piano notes. Jo’s tremulous, mid-range vocals sound pained as she pushes her words out, bolstered by a chorus in the background that, at times, emerges to the fore and threatens to engulf Jo’s wispier tone.

An airy, expressive quiver fills Jo’s vocals on “Broken” (Tinderbox) and an angelic choir flits in and out against the steady clack of the beat and fluid piano notes that mirror Jo’s vocals as she elongates and turns up the words “Why can’t I say those things / that are in my head?” Dancing piano notes glimmer like a stream in sunlight on “Mother May I?” (The Unreachable Sky) amid touches of low strings, a synth backdrop, and Jo’s light, reverberating vocals. The flow of the verses is punctuated by plucked, piquant strings that add a quirky liveliness to the song.

What sounds like distant bagpipe curls opens “Little Birds”, along with sustained synth notes and contemplative piano. Jo sounds light and breathy, but subdued as the same chorus found on “Wash Away” makes its way into this song. A scattered drum beat enters midway, along with Jo humming thoughtfully.

Mandolin-like strum contrasts against a flow of piano and a dark current of low-register strings on “Island” as Jo sings in a high, emotionally-fragile tone amid tambourine strikes and an added guitar line. Gong shimmer opens “Tinderbox”, a slow-paced number with a sustained synth sound and strong piano flourishes that reflect Jo’s tormented emotions.  She is backed by higher, beseeching vocals that push to the forefront in a layered loop.

On the songs “Somewhere You Were” and “My Freedom”, taken from Jo’s debut album Lying In the Evidence of Love, Jo sings sweetly, like a young Bjork, full of child-like innocence that belies her experiences conveyed via the lyrics. Jo aches and sighs amid the melodic, lyrics-heavy, piano-based ballads that are done in a carefree style.

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