In some ways Jenny Berkel is wrapped in mystery – These Are the Sounds Left From Leaving is her first album in almost six years. Along the way she concentrated on her poetry while still performing live and creating a set of songs showcasing the world we’ve been living in lately. As she points out about the songs, “They’re intimate examinations of a world that often overwhelms.”
The music alone creates a myriad of moods, from the acoustic guitar that opens ‘Just Like a River’ before the strings arranged by Andy Shauf cohort Colin Nealis begin to transform the track, leading down pathways quite different from the fingerpicked opening. A piano swirls, sways, then doubles back on itself as it plays off the lyricism of her words.
Looking through ‘Kaleidoscope’ we get a refracted view of the world. Berkel’s voice starts in a low register but halfway through the chorus her voice jumps to a higher octave, illustrating not only her vocal gifts but the way they help deliver a lyric that deals with what we’ve been bought and sold. “In recent years, we’ve been so overtly bombarded by disinformation and misinformation, creating what feels like a kaleidoscope of chaos,” which she reflects in the song. “All through America, the cities sleeping/ Radio plays like a child stuck inside a bad dream.” Musically dark, yet not overbearing, it plays out like a bad dream though we may eventually awaken.
On ‘July’ Berkel captures time in a bottle, “It was a hot summer, one that reminded me of being a small child in the middle of July in southwestern Ontario. It’s a love song, but it’s also a nostalgic song that expresses how memory shifts and shapes you, and how the stories we tell become who we are.” The song’s genesis comes from a chorus she had written about someone she thought had the potential to be a lover. Strings build and swell while an electric piano adds shades of colour as the song swells.
Painting the truth of relationships Berkel brushes up against ideas that sometimes are filled with the twisted logic of lovers. “You think you’re like the rain/ Over and over, you’re falling and making me sad/ But I know you’re not the rain, though maybe you’re everything/ I wish you wouldn’t be sad.” How do we tell others that we love them and make them understand that sometimes the best thing you can do is work on yourself and the relationship will become better in the process?
Jenny Berkel has so much to say and on These Are the Sounds Left From Leaving she gives voice to a world that has become difficult and disconnected. But it’s a world that still has hope.