Portland has many treasures in the city, obviously music being one of them. Within that is one particular songwriter by the name of Nick Jaina. His 2010 album A Bird in the Opera House is a varied delight, diverse in its offerings while retaining a distinct character on each song. This year he’s taken those leftovers and, unlike almost if not all songwriters out there, decided not to do a b-side album or deluxe edition or some other crazy offering. Instead each invention is given its own particular home with one female singer, effectively turning his music into a songstress mixtape with Jaina at the base with The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone.
While the music could be considered what was left from A Bird sessions, the new release feels nothing of such. In fact, it vastly varies as the geography from which each of the singers come from be it Washington’s Kaylee Cole, Houston’s Jolie Holland or Nashville’s Audie Darling. It’s Kaylee who starts it off, although another singer at the end was technically the first to kick off the project. “When the Blind Man Rings That Bell” sounds a lot like choir, more so Nona Marie & the Choir, with a haunting beauty brought by agonizingly stunning strings and listless, fuzzed guitar. It has as much emotion as the end of a funeral, with none of the foreboding emptiness or sadness. A strange way to describe, but it truly is lovely in a fundamental sense.
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Jaina often switches musically back and forth, evidenced in his previous albums and he continues as such. “You Were So Good to Me”, with its loungey horns and rim taps, has a smokey Spanish feel to the music over Jolie Holland’s velvet voice. “Once But Never Again” is an addictive little track that is the most effective way pick up and prevent that guitar from collecting dust, all with effortless vocals from Luzelena Mendoza. It’s a toe-tapping number that, guaranteed, will flutter around in your head for some time-exactly like “Semoline”. While “Whiskey Riddle” tumbles into a late night country bar, the kind that houses the diamond in the dusty rough with Annalisa Tornfelt strumming away to a heartfelt, appreciative community of regulars.
“The President of the Chess Club” stumbles, just cause it doesn’t share the same emotional feel, but more pop. It takes until “Missing Awhile” for the album to regain traction. The song just prior, however, is “James.” On it, Johanna Kunin is, picks and drumsticks down, the best performance. She soars with an emotional level paralleled only with Sharon Van Etten.
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Audie Darling has a lo-fi voice to which Jaina’s guitar lends so much more than fleeting, grainy images to her dream pop perfect singing. The reverb and echoing track is a stunning, end of the summer swelter song, one that makes me want to hear more from her, but even a collaborative EP from both. (There’s a good little bit on her over at Aurgasm.) While at the end, Laura Gibson, the first song attempted by Nick on the project, gives a befitting conclusion with “No One Gives Their Heart Away.” She is his counterpart musically with her reflective singing. It’s poignant, with verses supporting often by an upright bass and fluttering strings.
The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone is not so much a compilation album, nor a mixtape. It’s rooted deeply into the music that has captivated those who have heard Nick Jaina, and each of the songstresses that support his vision lend qualities that demand at least a few listens. Personally, the album is a launching pad into more singer/songwriter explorations that-till now-have been elusive. Think of Jaina as a modern day songwriting Medici for spreading word of these female vocalists.