A Handmade Life is the latest offering from Jill Freeman on which she explores the Jungian psychology buried in fairy tales; extraordinary in conception, creation and performance she has produced an album full of superb music.
Jill Freeman is a beautifully interpretative singer with a highly expressive voice. On A Handmade Life she has surrounded herself with a host of highly accomplished musicians. The production and arrangement, by Joel Watchbrit (also Jill’s husband and a multi-instrumentalist), is both imaginative and unexpected, incorporating a vast variety of styles: Jazz, blues, pop, country and folk.
The album is bookended by The Light That Leads Me There, a song, based on The Ugly Duckling, that grabs your heart and suddenly you realise that the fairytale is an allegory for all the lost souls, for those struggling to find their place in the increasingly complex and unforgiving world we live in.
There are many standout songs, although The Nightingale is more a poem with a musical accompaniment, it’s beautiful. The full lyrics are available on jill’s website, along with all the musical credits and when you read the nightingale every word counts. Not all songwriters worry so much about the lyrics and frankly I don’t mind as long as the message gets through but on this album you feel Jill Freeman has sweated over every comma.
But the nightingale’s voice
pierced my heart
and beauty and death are flooding in
like morning sun
like passions blood
The first song (after the prelude) is Letters from Murdertown which is dark and spooky and immediately conjures up scenes you might have seen in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ The musical spookiness is created by the minor key, lots of unexpected key changes and some gorgeous clarinet.
Lay your bones all down in a line
Peel your skin, like old clothes
Just let go, unroll, unwind
‘Welcome to The Bonehouse’ is based on ‘Baba Yaga’ and is reminiscent of a Waitsian styled Edith Piaf . That’s the thing with this album, every track is unique but with pointers to myriad musical styles.
Walking On Glass is inspired by Cinderella a sort of smokey swing rap with a great big bouncy acoustic bass. At least eight of the songs on the record are inspired by The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson and every one works. Little Red Riding hood is a tale that even I, in my innocence, can see the dark side of. A Little Bit of Red leaves us to make up our own minds although Granny singing songs rejoicing in the fate of all the young girls who have walked in the forest doesn’t bode well. Musically this song evokes Pentangle with a touch of Sgt Pepper mid-way through, I love it.
A Handmade Life is a fairly faithful telling of the ‘Red Shoes,’ a pleasant guitar picked story song until the chorus which goes brilliantly funky.
And then we’re back to The Light That Leads Me There, a little country song that carries a huge message. If the Uilleann Pipes solo doesn’t bring a tear to your eye there’s something wrong with your tear ducts.
This album is an absolute masterpiece. If Jill Freeman doesn’t write another song she can wake up every morning, turn on the CD player and say to herself “job done.”
A Handmade Life is Out Now
Order it here: jillfreeman.com