Earlier this year there was an artist coming to Madison, a favorite. Like Barnum & Bailey Circus, it was a show not to miss. But when Nick Jaina took to the floorboards in a quaint, couch-lined co-op room, my resolve to stay and hear a few songs soon dissolved faster than sugar in water. One song in, I was impressed. Two, convinced. Three, who’s Barnum & Bailey? What about remorse? Gone, when Thomas Paul (who accompanied Nick on the Fall 2010 tour) laid down the guitar and advantageously used the Lothlórien’s piano.
Nick Jaina is a Sacramento-born, Portland-residing songwriter and a moonlighting member of Loch Lomond. Late to guitar at the age of 16, the instrument served as a way to animate his written lyrics. He spoke in a past interview about how the lyrics and music seem to meet together “magically.” (Right place, right time as in Lothlórien) Nick Jaina, the band, has become more a music community, encompassing roughly ten people at various points in time. But on with the music…for someone who lived next to Réaumur-Sébastopol, entitling the first track “Sebastopol” is enough to call these ears to attention to electric-tinged melodies and the bounding, resonating upright bass. As the song progresses, a layer is added, appreciated, then another joins to frame a swaying that sends a warmth over listeners.
His music is not all typical singer/songwriter, as Jaina uses electric instead of acoustic. While oft-putting to those who assume folk-acoustic, “Another Kay Song” and its carefree brushing strums pulls forth the memories of those musical aspirations when you first pick up a Fender in a guitar store when young. The song, with its wonderful chorus “It doesn’t matter what you do, I’m blindly in love with you,” soars without its tires leaving the ground. Closer “Cincinnati” similarly takes off with a violin towards the final notes, with a calculated restraint you do not expect in the days of Mumford & Sons and Cadillac Sky dominating the genres.
However it’s not all calm and constraint through A Bird in the Opera House, that’d just be boring, right? With a snap, “Sleep, Child” is the iron horse out of the station, churning forward on acoustic rails. As it rises up the hill, John Whaley’s trumpet, a tambourine, and strings accompany the journey forward. The chugging comes by way of the drumming (which was shared between Nick Jaina, Scott Magee, and Rachel Blumberg for the album), which tremendously adapts to the anticipated ambiance. The snare taps of “Semoline” give a quirky uplifting spirit to the album, the kind that winds up a crowd underneath incandescent bulbs in small town fields into a whirling dance.
At times, as on “Theresa” and its operatic piano, the slower tempo moments lose some of the poignancy. Thankfully it’s fleeting, and it does push the album forward in new, unique directions. “Officer Schoppe,” with its banjo and talks of debutants mirrors Nick’s New Orleans influence immaculately.