Janelle True’s sophomore album, Painted Pianos, demonstrates both her raw talent and her growth both as a song writer and singer. (Go here for more on her debut album, Swept Away). This will become evident as we dive deeper into the album. Three of my favorite songs are found in the center of the album: “I Am Found”, “Forevermore” and “A Little Bit of Everything.” They show off her ability to write beautiful lyrics, just flat out sing a ballad,and switch to a lighter beat with a great message of learning to avoid confusing a lack of many different experiences with naïveté.
“Treasure” epitomizes setting values aright. I especially love the line “I’d rather be a poet/Writing sonnets on my hand/than a prim and proper porcelain doll/with her keys to all the land./Oh I’d rather help the broken/Singing songs they understand/Than to sit upon a throne inside, the castle made of sand./Oh I’d rather do what I love,/than to try to fit like a glove.” Knowing what we are called to do, why we want to do and holding true to the call despite the allures of other options seems to me to key in being at peace with ourselves.
Ms. True makes a brilliant choice in “Worthwhile” by matching the lyrics to the musical rhythm – the individual ukulele strumming matches the idea of listening to the rain – music and words come together. We find succor in recognizing life’s not easy but it is worth the challenge in fully living. It’s great encouragement to recognize that we have a new opportunity each day, let’s live it. She reminds us that it is the small things that make worthwhile.
Ms. True starts with nice melodic opening to “Just the Same.” The song is an homage to true friendship, whether included in a romantic relationship or not. It plays on the notion that I will be with you, beside you, supporting you no matter what comes up. Whether it’s good weather or bad weather, good times or bad times. Even as the world and relationships change, I will still support you just the same.
“Something Beautiful” reminds us that there is no day that the Lord doesn’t care. He reminds of us His care in the world He has given to us. Despite the fact that it is fallen, that we are no longer in Eden, it retains His creative touch and His purpose.
Now, one of the challenges and one of the benefits of Ms. True’s singing is her distinctive voice. She is distinctive in both senses of the term: distinctive in terms of her sound and she has a distinctive voice in terms of the material that she brings to the table, the content that she sings. Clearly the benefit is that she has the ability to stand out in her singing. If you ever hear her voice, you will notice that she sings with a unique tone. In a musical world where there are thousands of good voices, having the ability to stand out is surely a great benefit for Ms. True. The challenge, however, is that when you have such a strong, rich, distinctive voice, the timing, tone and type of songs that you have as part of your musical arsenal need to vary more than for most artists. In other words, if you sing fairly similar songs because you have such an overpowering distinctive sound, the songs are going to start to sound alike. So one of the steps that Ms. True has taken with Painted Pianos is to have a little bit more variety than she had in her debut album Swept Away. However, I would love to see for Ms. True to extend even further that variety, even crossing over into different genres. That’s not to say, that the songs she has on Painted Pianos aren’t worthwhile. Indeed, each song is captivating in its own way, as we’ve seen and will continue to detail. It’s simply that for the sake of her career, given the fact that she has such a strong voice, even more variety is warranted. We’ll see a little of the focus on variety in the next three songs.
“I Am Found” is sonically one of my favorite songs of the album. The lush entrance with piano and violin really set you up for a slightly different experience from the other songs. This is an extraordinarily beautiful song of how we’re found by Someone who loves us so much that he would fight for us, that he would die for us. When I say “fight,” I don’t mean get into a bit of fisticuffs, but rather fight death itself. The extraordinary grace that we receive from Jesus Christ are well expressed, in both sound and word in “I Am Found.”
“Forevermore” is about chesed, everlasting loving-kindness, expressed on the cross by Christ: “But now forevermore/It will always be assured/That no kings or queens or the death of me/ Not any former things or things to be/Not even height or depth or anything/Can pull me from your love.” Once again, content and vessel are perfectly match – the lyrics and music complement one another well.
A Little Bit of Everything” is sweet little song that has a slightly different beat. It’s a little more upbeat and speaks to young, genuine love. Despite the appearance of naïveté, she really knows what she’s looking for and would rather spend the time doing everything focused with that person then a bit of everything with everyone else.
“So Long to the City” is a lovely homage to country-side and to slowing down from the frenetic pace of the modern city: “So long to the city/I cannot help but share my pity/You move so fast and never slow/All your lights and your committees/Your brick and glass they’re very pretty/You build your castles to the sky.”
“Catch Me” is about risking love. We all worry about whether those we care about will catch us, if you let us fall. It is sung from the perspective of person who, too readily, gives over her heart, who possibly trusts a little too soon and thus is more easily hurt or at least more frequently hurt. Unfortunately, after having learned those lessons the hard way, she questions if should she change. Should she be more careful with her heart? Where is that balance between being foolish and recognizing that all love involves risk. We all worry, don’t we if the person to whom we give our love won’t catch us?
Oh the joys and challenges of transitioning to new seasons in our lives. We leave what we know, both emotionally and physically, and there are those moments when we really recognize that the place which we took for granted will no longer be ours. Even if I return, it and I are changed. “Belrose Drive” beautifully captures these mixed feelings and the seemingly sudden realization that what we dismissed as prosaic and old will soon become dear to us. “A corner turned/That’s where I used to learn/Right down the road/Oh how I’ve grown/And all my friends/Here since before it all began.”
I commend Ms. True’s Painted Pianos to your listening pleasure and look forward to the next phase in her career.