London-based, Kansas-born Angela Penhaligon – aka that musician – returns for her latest collaboration with her Country Roadshow comrades. Coming four years on from their debut Hold Yer Horses, this second outing for her merry band is a more solid helping. Not to belittle the gem that was its predecessor, but time has passed and it’s pleasing to see that Piney has developed her sound. Whereas Hold Yer Horses was partially made up of tracks reworked from her solo electronica album Peakahokahoo, listening to Jesus Wept there is a sense that it was put together as a whole, that these songs were created to sit together in ways that those on the previous album were not. Piney’s voice has also improved, giving increased depth, strength and versatility to tracks like ‘Master/Mistress’ and ‘Great Grey Belly’.
The sound is predominately old-timey country with a modern twist, but there’s plenty of variation in here as well; ’40 Days & Nights’ has something of a classic rock feel, while ‘The Sheriff Of San Miguel’ turns its storytelling gaze south of the border. These two songs, together with the sublimely uptempo ‘I Was Born In A Thunderstorm’ make for an impressive start to the album as Piney captures the joyful highs and sombre lows of life without losing sight of her infectious sense of fun. Jesus Wept does then suffer from the infamous “mid-album slump” for about four songs, the main offender being ‘Fast Cryin’, a why-bother remake of one of Hold Yer Horses‘ least memorable numbers. The others in this trough are not in any way awful but prove somewhat unobtrusive, but things soon pick up with ‘Imaginary Baby’ – a typically bizarre but wonderful inclusion – and rarely slip after that.
Jesus Wept‘s greatest weakness, if it can be said to be one, is that the album works better as a whole than as separate songs. It’s easy to enjoy it for a solid, cohesive, pretty and charming work, but it’s not so simple to pick out any standout tracks or obvious singles. ‘Dog ‘N’ Bone’, for instance, is absolutely lovely but so seamlessly does it slip in between ‘Imaginary Baby’ and ‘Great Grey Belly’ that they blend together a little too well. A casual first listen might leave you thinking there are fewer than the thirteen tracks the album actually contains. Jesus Wept is easy to enjoy and duly attests to the evolving talents of its leading lady, and while it might pull some occasional punches, there’s no denying it’s a lovingly crafted and moving collection.
[Damaged Goods; October 18, 2010]