The Dear Janes

Skirt

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The third album by the U.S./U.K. singer/songwriter duo the Dear Janes came a full five years after its predecessor, 1997's No Skin. Where that album often seemed a tad ill-defined in the way it leapt between styles and moods, the self-released (in the U.K.; Ardent Records picked it up for U.S. distribution the following year) Skirt is a still varied but much more focused effort. Produced by ex-Shriekback bassist Simon Edwards, the husband of singer/songwriter Ginny Clee, Skirt sounds rooted in the first wave of British folk-rock: echoes of Shirley & Dolly Collins, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and the Albion Band abound in the melodies and the folk-rooted harmonies of Clee and Barbara Marsh. However, the album isn't a simple retro retread, as the rock-based band (starring organist Ian McLagan) gives the songs just enough muscle, whether on the almost punky electric roar of "Too Much Girl" or the much more delicate and ethereal "The Fix." The album's highlight, "Ship," was co-written by Syd Straw and recalls the folk-electronica blend of Beth Orton. The weakest track, "Skinning," sounds like an attempt at a lightweight AAA radio contender, perversely fitted out with the album's most leaden and depressive lyrics. Overall, however, Skirt's a surprising delight from a duo that many undoubtedly assumed was long gone.

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