By JENNIFER KELLY
Jennifer Castle has a delicate, fluttery voice, breathy at the top end but full of warm certainty at the bottom. It’s the kind of voice that reminds you, a little bit, of her fellow Canadian Anne Murray, sweet with trilling vibrato but unsentimental, as she moves lightly from idea to idea. Pink City is a very pretty album, though in a restrained way. The singing, the songs and the arrangements are all quietly lovely in ways that don’t jump out and grab you by the throat.
This fourth full-length is more firmly rooted in country than Castle’s previous one, Castlemusic. That album showed its modernity in occasional abstract electronic intervals, while this one tends toward subtle subversion. Castle sings and picks like a porch folk traditionalist, but there’s a willful idiosyncrasy here that shies from and upends convention.
Take, for instance, the gorgeous single “Sailing Away,” one of several tracks thickened with string arrangements from Owen Pallett. A bubbling, percolating guitar jangle gives the song a bit of bounce. It’s breezy, pleasing, swelling with sudden orchestral flourishes, moving restlessly from verse to chorus, yet it’s essentially an ode to loneliness. “I don’t need a home, don’t need a lover, I’ll be out on my own come hell or high water,” sings Castle, her voice fluttering weightlessly up into trilling flourishes. She’s a rebel, just not an obvious one, quietly matching buoyant melody to cutting subject matter. (I also love the way she ends piano-waltzing “Nature” its spare lyrics about human insignificance concluding with the cryptic observation, “I lift my skirt for the economy.”)
Jennifer Castle has been an eccentric talent for a while, hitching ear-pleasing country folk to the complexities of modern life. Pink City is her prettiest, most cohesive work yet. It’s well-constructed enough to showcase the weirdness that crops up in her songs without making her seem like a novelty act. And at the same time, it’s twisted enough to avoid sentimentality. Castle may have an engagingly lovely voice, but she’s no conventional beauty. It’s more complicated than that.
DOWNLOAD: “Sailing Away” “Pink City”