30 November 2009

Growing Up: Jill Hennessy's "Ghost in My Head"

{from guest contributor Barbara Washburn}

For those old enough to remember the earlier days of Law & Order, when Jill Hennessy shot to stardom, who'd have thought Claire Kincaid (the buttoned-down character she played) would grow her hair and pick up a guitar? We should rejoice that she did, for Jill Hennessy has released a remarkable debut album, Ghost In My Head.

There's a bluesy quality to her voice, though no twelve bar blues appear on the CD. I can't help but wonder what she'd do with a couple of Janis Joplin's classics, Turtle Blues and Mercedes Benz, not to mention Joplin's Little Girl Blue. It isn't fair to compare the two - Hennessy obviously lacks Joplin's Texas drawl and amazing ability to stretch a note into infinity - but at the same time, I can easily see Jill Hennessy covering a couple of Janis Joplin's songs, and doing it well.

Much of the material is autobiographical in tone if not in fact, and the stories she tells in her songs are heart-wrenching. She takes you into a world of vivid images, raw pain, and the strength of the human soul, of grace and redemption. In her title track, she walks you through Washington Square at four in the morning, mourning loss as she wanders aimlessly in the cold. But perhaps the wandering is not so aimless, for her music speaks to the same restlessness, sleeplessness, and heartbreak of others, making it easy to identify with the poetry, the images, the vulnerability of a young woman on a New York night.

Erin, another track, touches your heart as she tells the story of a woman whose strength of spirit inspires at the same time. The pain of losing her mother comes through in a straightforward, non-maudlin way in 4 Small Hands, and a child's sense of responsibility where none belongs echoes throughout Save Me. Each song tells its tale, meets the listener where they are, and the melding is impressive.

I am not a musician, but I am a child of the sixties, and so I appreciate certain music, a certain era. I have not cared much for modern music, especially when the "artist" covers our music. Jill Hennessy doesn't make that mistake. These are her songs, her stories, her guitar work (ably backed by some fine musicians). It's my opinion she is at her best when it's simply her guitar and her voice, sharing her stories and soul with the world. In concert, she's funny as hell, and then, like Janis Joplin before her, gives it all to the audience. However, unlike Janis, she doesn't go home alone. Still, Hennessy has the right to sing the blues if she chooses, and while her current songs are not blues, in some sense they border on that wonderful genre in their own way, with her haunting voice and the pain that seeps through the lyrics.

This is an indie album, protected from the intrusions of suits who "know" better than the artist how a song should sound. There is great depth to this music, great freedom in it, the joy of expressing one's soul and vision without interference. I look forward to hearing more from her as she continues to grow musically, to write of those ethereal things so common to us all but unique to her.

Some of her performances can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/jillhennessyofficial#p/u/9/B4yCEgg1kBc and I urge everyone to sample her work. The CD itself may be purchased from Amazon.com and Borders. The musicians who have influenced her over the years are quietly present, but the work is entirely hers, and she should be proud of it.

I may not be able to convince her to loan that voice, that pain and joy, to the blues, but I do hope she will - call it my sense of humor or my vision of the possible, but the idea of seeing or hearing Claire Kincaid sitting on a piano, singing that wonderful twelve bar blues, Turtle Blues, is too enticing. While others have tried to cover Joplin, I believe it's Hennessy's originality that would finally do justice to the white queen of the blues. And that is the greatest compliment I can pay to this album, this artist who can do so many things well. This album is both intellectual and emotional, and how many artists can one write that about? It's not a masterpiece, but she is growing, and I am ready to be blown away by the growth spurt to come. It has become an essential part of my musical library, and hope that many more will discover Jill Hennessy, musician, rather than Jill Hennessy, actress.

For those taken with her talent, she has a MySpace page that lists current and future gigs, as well as her take on her musical roots. Seeing her perform is a blast, as we used to say, and well worth any trip one might have to make to be there. Definitely an A list album by a musician who will soon be called the same. And for what it's worth, she's without ego or entourage, engaging with those who come to see her both from the stage and when she's wandering around later, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

Well done, Ms. Hennessy, now let's have another one.


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68wolff said...

Her voice has a great sound that can appeal to most everyone that enjoys great music.