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Jenny and Tyler: Of This I'm Sure
by George Graham
(Residence Music As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/13/2016)
It seems that family groups, consisting of spouses and/or siblings have been making something of a comeback in recent years. Once the staple of popular music in the pre-rock days, family groups seem to be rediscovering the adage that the family that plays together stays together. This week we have a worthwhile new recording by Jenny and Tyler, who are wife and husband, Jenny and Tyler Somers. They call what they do “art-pop,” and that’s a fair description, with a mix of songs which are, at their base, material for a folky singer-songwriter added to a pop sensibility and fairly sophisticated arrangements and production.
According to their bio, Jenny and Tyler met in college where both were playing music independently. They first encountered on a bus and began backing each other up musically in their performances before starting to work as a duo and eventually marrying. They have been performing and recording together since about 2009. They were both from Delaware, but decided to take the plunge and moved to Nashville to pursue their music. They have had three independent releases but now they are out on a new record label with an album called Of This I’s Sure. The record shows that they have a production budget with each track having a fair amount of augmentation in terms of added musicians and arrangements.
Although new album definitely hints of contemporary commercial pop, the band’s songs and the production remain reasonably tasteful. The producer for most of the album was Gabe Scott, who has worked with the hit band The Civil Wars and Matt Kearney among others. The arrangements can run from the more intimate and sometimes ethereal, to a kind of full-blown mainstream pop. Most of the songs cover familiar topics revolving around relationships. They note in their bio that a few of their songs were directly inspired by the travails of actual people they knew or met. While the compositions are equally credited as being by both of the Somerses, there are tunes in which either one or the other dominates, but for the most part, their standout signature sound is their vocal harmonies.
Leading off is the title track Of This I’m Sure, an attractive, well-written song that gets a bit too much of the big pop production at times. But it’s good example of the duo’s blend of the pop with the underlying folk sensibility. <<>>
Song For You is another track that goes heavy on the big pop sound, with something that seemed influenced by U2. The song was intended as the album’s first single, but it’s the most cliche filled tune on the album. It would have been many times better in a more intimate setting. <<>>
More subtle and tasteful in sound is the song Beloved One. While there are some orchestrations added with strings, the overall sound is more supportive of the composition, which is pretty much a straight-out love song. <<>>
One of the highlights of the album is Walk with You, which has hints of Gospel influence along with some of the duo’s best, most positive lyrics. <<>>
There are a few tracks with a more intimate sound, at least at first. Where to Begin was co-written by Jenny and Tyler Somers with their producer Gabe Scott and achieves a nice balance between the duo’s contemplative song and some added sonic embellishments. <<>>
Another of the album’s “bigger” sounding tracks is My Dear One whose lyrics are a kind of plea to someone who has spurned the offers of help from loved ones. It gets the full treatment with the strings and more electric instrumentation, which I think is a bit much for this duo. <<>>
On the other hand, the group’s intimate side is best represented on the song Once Again, which for me is another definite highlight of the album showing what Jenny and Tyler can do mostly by themselves. Lyrically, it’s the reaffirmation of the love of a couple. <<>>
Of This I’m Sure, the new album by the Jenny & Tyler, is a nice mix of contemporary pop sound with the literate approach of singer-songwriters. The married couple originally from Delaware create pleasing, tasteful compositions, mostly along the typical lines of loves coming together and going asunder. Although the album’s Nashville production is generally more tasteful than most commercial pop, I do think that producer Gabe Scott got a little carried away with trying to make this folky duo into a mainstream pop project. The album’s more scaled back moments are its high points for me, and the more produced tracks don’t put a lot of daylight between the sound of this album and many other commercial pop projects that lack the musical content that Lenny and Tyler bring.
Our grade for sound quality is about a C plus. The “big sound” means heavy volume compression, and though songs have their dynamics, the recording was squashed so that the quieter moments are not quieter than the louder moments. And the vocal sound, though not noticeably distorted with effects, nevertheless does not sound warm or natural, again with artifacts of heavy volume compression eliminating any ebb and flow from their vocal performance. It undermines the folky appeal of their vocals.
Jenny and Tyler Somers make a worthwhile label debut with their high quality material and pleasing vocal harmonies, into a more produced setting that could potentially widen their appeal. It’s decidedly a cut above most of the commercial pop on the scene these days.
(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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