Jennings & Keller

Susan's House

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Duos come in various forms, but rarely are the two members equal contributors. The folk duo Jennings & Keller, here self-releasing their debut CD, Susan's House, certainly are not. Laurie Jennings Oudin writes the songs, sings them, and plays the guitar; Dana Keller provides some added musical color with lead playing on lap steel guitar or dobro. That is not to demean his efforts; in fact, since Oudin's songs tend to have traditional folk structures, his additions are all the more valuable. (He also produced the album.) But his role is essentially supportive. Not only are Oudin's tunes familiar, but so is her vocal sound. She has the same range as mid-period Joni Mitchell, an alto who hits occasional soprano notes, but her tone is warmer and her phrasing more rounded; a cross between Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter, then. Since the style is so well worn, she needs to distinguish herself largely through her lyric writing, which she does, at least sometimes. Especially early on, she tends to generalize and fall back on clich├ęs as she reflects on the travails of life and love. But the fourth song, "The Best Hamlet," finds the narrator recalling her infatuation with an actor who, instead of returning her interest, behaved like the indecisive character he played, and it's involving to the listener because it is specific: "New York City, West 51st Street, studying Shakespeare," is the opening line. Similarly, "I Wanted to Be Maria," a woman's recollection of how she identified with the main character in The Sound of Music, uses details that make its account believable. The music of Jennings & Keller is always a pleasant listen; it becomes compelling only when Oudin finds ways to describe her feelings that are uniquely hers.

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