Anyone familiar with the music scene in New York would be aware of the talent of Jenny Bruce, who released her debut album in 1997 and went on to win the Billboard International Songwriting Contest in 2001, accepting her award at Nashville’s iconic Bluebird Cafe. She went on to build a huge following amongst the NYC crowd by appearing in festivals and clubs and appeared on stage with John Oates, Sophie B Hawkins, Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne amongst others. Her songs have been featured far and wide in TV and film and to the musical bystander, things would have appeared to be going from strength to strength but this American singer songwriter was coming to a pinch point in her life that would create the need for a musical rebirth.
In 2015 she released an EP ‘Firefly in a Jar’ which included the single ‘Giving Up the Ghost’ which felt like a heart breaking goodbye to her Mother with lyrics like: “I still come undone when it’s time to say goodbye” and “I hear your voice softer than the breeze, you speak to me, the rustling of leaves, I don’t care why there’s a part of me that will never say goodbye, giving up the ghost” which is backed by a repeated mantra of “I’m not giving up”. This EP marked a return after a self-imposed step away from music of ten years and Jenny was quoted as saying:
“It’s such a long story. To sum it up. I didn’t write for myself for over a decade. I bottled everything up and locked it in a jar. Especially the feelings of loss after my Mother died. That loss broke my heart and hurt so much that I kind of shut down. Thing is, I became a mother around the same time. It was a very confusing period in my life. These songs are little life rafts that I wrote to pull myself up and out of a numbing sea”
It was to be 5 years later that Jenny released album GHOSTE, the name of which may have sprung directly from the thought of giving up the ghost by becoming GHOSTE, the silent e at the end almost suggesting anything but silence. Officially giving up the ghost and adopting GHOSTE meant that Jenny was able to emerge from the critically acclaimed and award winning song writing of the past to become something different but the same, a butterfly from the chrysalis of her song writing past. The eponymous album under the new name came out in 2020 and immediately caught the eye; the powerful song writing was of course still there but there was an ethereal quality in the electro pop style that suggested a musical rebirth.
Jenny has been asked about the name and she recalls:
“My late Mom cautioned me that after you turn 50 nobody listens to you and you become invisible, a ghost. Having crossed the 50-yard line, myself, I would tell her that aging doesn’t make you invisible. Trying to be something you are not, does.”
There are so many things we can draw from this simple and yet revealing statement. The nod to the 50-yard line suggests so much more than a number of birthdays and hints that Jenny sees this as a half way mark in her career before she goes on the offensive. There’s a real suggestion that up until now, she was trying to be something she wasn’t. She has garnered huge success from an early contractual agreement to write for TV and film but this comes with certain shackles that musically she seems determined to cast aside. The fact that she has moved away from the possibility of invisibility and being a ghost by becoming something more than a ghost, hence the added e, is a definite statement of intent that she will be heard.
Scroll forward to now and we see music from the artist in the shape of a five track EP show casing last year’s album release. The haunting music, excuse the pun, brings to mind the vocals of Kate Bush or Annie Lennox, artists whose vocal style has inspired so many of today’s singers and producers. Assisted by Matt Anthony, producer and composer, GHOSTE’s new music is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration that has finally found its wings.
The track listing of the teaser EP for the album could be the chapters of a book; ‘slow motion’, ‘deep water’, ‘fix you’, ‘hold on’ and ‘brick by brick’ suggest a progression of a career but all tracks are infused with Jenny’s inimitable style. GHOSTE even manages the almost impossible feat of covering a Coldplay song, often attempted but rarely adding anything. In this instance Jenny brings new nuance to the lyrics within the framework of this musical rebirth.
The selection opens with ‘Slow Motion’, an upbeat opener which quickly works its way into your memory before moving to the stunning ‘Deep Water’, which has a cinematic feel to it which builds with a beautiful ‘deep water’ refrain reminiscent of Ennio Morricone before a Kate Bush like climax; it’s a song that is so stunningly layered and the stand out track for me. Next is ‘Fix You’ which GHOSTE covers with real style; I’m sure that Chris Martin would love the almost galactic feel to the production of this wonderful song. The penultimate track, ‘Hold On’ is another wonderfully layered track with very moving lyrics and great production, much in the style of Jack Garratt, the superb UK artist. ‘Brick by Brick’ opens with the line ‘It’s a long way back, I can hear you calling’ and that feels like a direct reference to this musical return and the heartbreaks and life changing episodes that have made up the fabric of Jenny’s life since her self-imposed hiatus. The lyrics are a wonderful reworking of the three little pig’s children’s story and references the rebuilding of a musical vision but in brick this time; a suggestion that this time she will not be “blown down”.
There is so much emotion in this release and so much underlying story telling. Like the production, it will haunt you in stages. Firstly, you will love the wonderful electro pop cinematic quality of the music, then you will fall in love with Jenny’s wonderful voice, reminiscent of artists past but also reminding me of the brilliant Riva Taylor, a UK artist equally inspired by Kate Bush, but finally the thing that will stay with you forever will be the incredible lyrics; the honesty, the baring of a soul and the feeling that this is the start of a new exciting journey built on the lessons of the past. It turns out that the 50 yard line is just the beginning.