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Album Review

JILL STEVENSON
Don't Make Fun of Me, okay?

So pleads a ten-year-old Jill Stevenson in the “Making the EP” video embedded below. Ten years old and already the consummate pro, she lays out her future and fends off a tormenting sister whose only argument against Jill's professed dreams is “You're not even eleven...”, a superfluous statement for a girl whose musical future might as well have been written in stone. It appears that it would have been easier to remove the sword from the stone than deter Stevenson from her chosen path, declared at even such a young age. She is doing right now what she then said she would do. She teaches. And she sings.

You have to know Jill Stevenson to understand that path and, alas, I know her little, my contact limited to a short five minute “Just who are you?” phone conversation and the music on two EPs (The Jill Stevenson Band and Jill Stevenson & Adam Widoff/Where We're Not). And a handful of videos uncovered during research. Yes, I have done research, placing me somewhere between fan and stalker, I guess, if scouring the Internet be considered stalking. What I found there is that there is something in her music which makes me want to know more and hear more and not in the “Access Hollywood” trashy sense. More in the “this is something special” sense.

Just who am I? When Stevenson asked the question I was casual listener in quest of music. Now, I consider myself hardcore fan. It took me one listen to each EP, eleven songs total, to make me fan--- three weeks of immersion in the music to make me hardcore. To put it in simple terms, the more I listen, the more I like. In today's musical landscape, it doesn't get any better than that.

While it may be true that there is nothing groundbreaking here genre-wise or style-wise, Stevenson is much more than what she does. The songs provided on the EPs are absolutely first class and her whole crew, her band and Adam Widoff, help her nail not just the sound but the feel. What does she feel? What does anybody feel? That is the magic of the whole thing. She gets it. She gets us. This is music from the heart and soul for the heart and soul, Jill Stevenson-style. And it is deceptive. Over time, what you didn't hear becomes what you want to hear later.

I must have been ten listens in when it really began to hit me--- the simple completeness of it all. AmTrack was the first, the subdued voice looking simultaneously to the future and the past. With anyone else, this might have been another angst-ridden look at the realities which face us all each day. Stevenson takes it a step further, avoiding the angst and substituting a hope and expectation outside the inevitable which she presents as not so inevitable after all. It is a musical vision of not just her future and past but all our futures and pasts--- a look from above, if you will. When she sings 'You can only take so much on the American Track', I get it. I mean, I get it.

You might think that covering a Bob Dylan song like Girl From the North Country would be taking a chance, and it would have been if Stevenson had not made it seem so effortless. She almost downplays her voice, singing with a tired sadness, a fond remembering, and it caught me by surprise. True, the semi-orchestral background helps, but it is the combination of that and her voice that caught my ear. It is nothing short of beautiful.

How Late Is It furthered my interest. Dramatic and surreal at the beginning, it could be a dream sequence, and when the chorus slips in, I begin to understand that musical style has a little to do with how good a song can be. It is ethereal and yet cohesive and floats above clouds on the chorus.

By the time I got to Run Dry, I was hanging on every note of every song on both EPs. Listening in the dark one night, I was swept away by the chorus, the harmonies of 'I want to tell you, you can move mountains', words I would have died to hear from the few girls I ever really loved. It brought tears to my heart and still does.

The light rocker Six Weeks takes a different tact, a look at love broken. The chorus says it all when she sings 'You don't believe in us' and you grasp it--- attitude, with love. Bye-bye.

Slow and bluesy and made for the lounge, Sugar Sweet is a whole 'nother ball of wax. Time for a bit of mild vocal gymnastics and Stevenson shows a bit of what she could do if she wanted. Pro that she is, though, she plays to the song and not to her voice and the balance is perfect.

Perfection is impossible, of course, but I have to say that these EPs are still getting better with each listen. The voice, the production, the musicians! This is why I love what I do.

I could go on and on, but let us just say that sister Heidi, I'm sure, no longer makes fun of Jill. Chances are, she is her biggest fan. Who knew that when the camera was on, such a moment would be captured. And who knew the music Jill Stevenson had in her. And still does.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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