Citizen Jane – In the Storm
Self-Released – 21 October 2017
Strange though it seems, at least as far as I am aware there are (and have been) very few female duos in the world of folk music. In fact, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Twin Bandit, Lenore and, if they qualify as folk, First Aid Kit are all I can summon, at least off the top of my head. In which case, a most welcome addition to the membership of this apparently small club is Citizen Jane.
Based in Toronto, Citizen Jane is Reenie Perkovic (lead vocals/guitar/mandolin) and her partner in art and life, Lea Kirstein (viola/fiddle/cello/vocals). As a new name to me, I saw these ladies perform in June, when they soldiered on in competition with a high-spirited crowd at the Saturday morning farmer’s market component of the Campbell Bay Music Festival on Mayne Island, BC. Filtered through the racket I liked what I heard, so four months on I am pleased to hear some of those songs far from the madding crowd!
Before elaborating further on the music, it is important to emphasize that Perkovic and Kirstein describe the lyrical content of In the Storm as “a reflection of the values of human connection…and an urge to embrace differences, unite, and act with love to make the world a little brighter.” As I began penning this review on the day following the unspeakable, incomprehensible tragedy at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, to report on a collection of songs that promote unity, compassion and tolerance bring quite a measure of comfort amid the madness. And that it is such a beautiful, positive record, composed and exquisitely performed by a married couple that I assume will have faced ignorant prejudice at some point, makes such a philosophy all the more powerful.
The duo met when studying classical music at the University of Victoria (UVic) on Vancouver Island, the former Folk Arts Quartet member Kirstein having grown up in the city. Perkovic was raised in Toronto, to where her family had escaped from her birthplace of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. Although due to her three folk-pop solo releases and the material with Kirstein (formerly as ‘Reenie’) she is viewed as an acoustic singer-songwriter, at UVic Perkovic studied percussion and composed classical works that were read by the Victoria Symphony and Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal.
Following last year’s five-song Patchwork in the Dark debut EP, as one might expect from classically trained musicians of such pedigree the self-produced In the Storm is an accomplished chamber folk-pop album of grace and elegance. Recorded in the idyllic setting of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, it is impeccably arranged, boasting consistently strong lead vocal performances from Perkovic, tight harmonies, and effortless-sounding instrumentation. Initially, the songs sound simple enough, but with inventive Celtic, classical and East European flourishes delightfully popping up here and there, a closer listen reveals the skill with which these textured songs have been pieced together. Your Atmosphere, for example, is a delicate epic, a mini folk-pop symphony making full use of its four-and-a-half minutes. Another utter beauty is Hopkins Landing, named for a tiny community within the aforementioned Sunshine Coast’s town of Gibsons. For over two minutes Kirstein weaves a pretty, melancholy melody before her partner’s pure voice joins the song to take it home atop swelling strings.
In wrapping up In the Storm with the excellent We Could Make It – a perfect live set closer if ever I heard one – Citizen Jane bring their debut full-length collection to a stirring conclusion. In blending folk music with a nuanced classical approach to arrangements their modus operandi is by no means unique, but it still remains refreshing with plenty of scope for experimentation. It will, therefore, be interesting to follow how they build on this most satisfying first album, and I hope that as an inexplicably rare female duo operating in this arena it may inspire others to follow suit.
In the Storm is released on October 21st
Photo Credit Ryan MacDonald