I first read of Jan Krist nearly 20 years ago. A review of her album ran alongside an album that has since become a cherished favorite and for some reason the name stuck in my head, probably because her music was described as “Christian protest songs.”
Can’t remember the name of the album, though. Back in those days, young reader, you couldn’t hop online and sample a few songs before buying an album. Nope, you had to hope that the local music outlet would have the album you desired in stock, and if not you prepaid for a special order and waited forever until it arrived.
I remember that during that particular long-ago month I’m writing about, my money was already spent on the aforementioned classic, and by the time the next month came around I had five more albums I wanted to buy with funds only for one.
It’s probably a good thing, because the me of back then would not have been able to appreciate the folksy, acoustic, subtle music that is Jan Krist’s specialty. The title track off her latest album, Fallow Ground, springs to life with a slide guitar twangy enough to have 20-something me leaping for the off button. Life has since worn me down to the point where leaping takes effort, and I’d rather expend that effort elsewhere. Now I sit and listen. I also appreciate the light vocal harmonies that bring life to timeless melodies and encouraging lyrics. Krist’s “A Song For Hard Times” is stripped back to an acoustic guitar, percussion and passionate vocals, and really, anything more would be a distraction. Krist dares to add an accordion to “Auld Lang Syne” (not a cover but a tranquil number adorned with male vocal harmonies that intertwine to give you goose bumps) and the pleasing “The Moon’s an Orange Boat.” “Mama Was a Beauty” also includes this dark horse instrument. The accordion is used to great effect in this amazing tribute that hints at her parents’ imperfections and yet revels in their strength and faith with poetic, rootsy lines.
Of the 12 tracks on Fallow Ground a full half easily fall into the “excellent to astounding” category. Among these is “Never Was Enough,” a light and airy excursion of gently finger-picked guitar backing a forlorn melody and lyrics of, “Your heart is a hurricane / And you blew through my life like a fist through a window pane.” Simple and yet amazingly effective. “Burn Down Love” is also one of the highlights, sporting a swanky rhythm and picturesque lyrics like, “My soul’s a tinder box of need / You go get the matches and baby I’ll pour that gasoline.” The lone obligatory political song is the rocking “Guilt and Shame” in which the acoustic guitar digs into lines about Enron and “Andrew Grey Davis’ sound defeat / Put the Terminator in the governor’s seat,” surrounded by soulful backing vocals.
Oh, didn’t I tell you? The former Detroit native is now a resident of Fort Wayne along with her husband, who lends his talents to Sweetwater Music. A double score for the Summit City! I can’t help but think that if this couple had moved here 10 years earlier that they would have been a mainstay at Toast & Jam (R.I.P.). “Mature” music fans should keep their eyes open for shows around town and definitely make it a point to stop by another Fort Wayne mainstay, the Wooden Nickel, to add this amazing album to their collection – no special order required!
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