Jan Morrison
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Jan Morrison

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By Steve Morley

(UMCom) -- It wouldn’t surprise me one whit if the verse "sing a new song unto the Lord" figured prominently in Jan Morrison’s life, perhaps as something once spoken over her prophetically. Though some will claim there’s nothing truly new under the sun, even they would have to agree that there are still untapped hybrids of existing musical elements. From them, Morrison has fashioned a highly original work. Behind the simple illustration of burning candles that quietly announces Remember Me, there awaits an engulfing flame of musical invention. To the unwitting listener, the impression made by the opening track is like stepping into a room to discover a choir inside a cavernous monastery that houses a techno-style dance club in the cellar. In other words, it’s a place you’re sure you haven’t stumbled into before, even though parts of it seem oddly familiar.

Morrison draws from ecclesiastical music but splays it open with a host of 20th century instruments and compositional techniques, resulting in a kind of swirling time-sweep that spans several centuries. The intriguing tangle of voices and seemingly opposed sounds and styles has the effect of challenging one’s musical preconceptions. Though the composer herself finds pleasure in everything from Mozart to Alice Cooper, most lovers of liturgical music probably have precious little rock or synth-pop in their CD changers; conversely, most buyers of trance and ambient music may find a solemn choral requiem an as-yet-unacquired taste. Here, the two camps find common ground, unlikely as it may seem. While this is a risky proposition, it yields a cohesive and consciousness-altering end product that has the potential to promote a state of worshipful contemplation, though not by any means a somnambulant, "new-agey" one.

It aids the listener considerably to understand that the seven-track work has a dramatic basis; it was written to evoke the churning mix of emotions presumably experienced by both onlookers and the constituents of Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church after a 1963 bombing took the lives of four young girls there. The process of walking through and surrendering profound grief and outrage is powerfully depicted in the equilibrium-shattering dissonance that permeates "Jesus Said." Words like "persecution" and "suffering" vibrate horrifyingly, like a soul threatening to splinter as it seeks to die to the urge for vengeance. Subtle permutations of rhythm and meter are employed on "Lament" and "Dwell In my Love," while elsewhere songs change shape entirely, giving way to hypnotic drones and repeated phrases drawn from minimalist composers like Philip Glass. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this an avant-garde record, save for one exception: Whereas most left-field works often harbor seeds of pretension and detachment that alienate outsiders, this one succeeds in capturing depth and soul. Don’t kid yourself, though – Remember Me isn’t an easy listen, but it is a very rewarding one for the intrepid musical journeyer.

Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.









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Discography

Her newest CD, Joy & Pain, including "Break Free" and "You Are My Pain," was released in November 2005. Both of these songs can be heard on Martha's Vineyard Radio (mvyradio.com). It is available through CDBaby, i-Tunes and at Grimey's in Nashville.
Jan's debut CD, Remember Me, released in October 2004, is also available through CDBaby and i-Tunes. The song "Darkness" has been in the top 50 Electronica charts twice on American Idol Underground. Both "Dwell in My Love" and "Lord, Hear My Prayer" have had streaming and/or radio play.

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Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Where did you grow up? Alabama and Tennessee.

Milestones: Threw myself into music after realizing that girls don't play football; threw myself into songwriting after realizing I wasn't that good of a piano player; threw myself into the "dunking booth" at the Baptist Church and got baptized.

What were the first songs you had to have? Alice Cooper's School's Out, T-Rex's Bang A Gong and the Jackson 5's I Want You Back. My mother was horrified when I dressed as Alice Cooper one Halloween.

Most memorable gig: Last spring I performed with my band at the Sweet Auburn Fest in Atlanta. Huge crowd. Right before we were scheduled to go on, this, uh, fashion show posse jumped onstage (see the Booty-licious photo on my website). And there wasn't a lot of fashion on these ladies or gents. The guys in the crowd were going nuts. Needless to say, since no one in my band was going to strip, our set was a little anti-climactic.

What were your first instruments/equipment? A Fender Mustang and a Korg monophonic synth so I could play all of Gary Numan's songs. I also had a Teac reel to reel recorder that could overdub, which I still have.

What instruments/equipment do you use now? I have a Fender Strat and a Bronco, an Alvarez acoustic guitar, a Korg Trinity and I use Cakewalk to record.

What are your all time favorite recordings? Peter Gabriel's Passion, Talking Head's Take Me to the River and Once in a Lifetime, anything by Trans Global Underground, Arvo Part and I really do love Mozart.

What are you listening to right now? Joseph Arthur (who I've seen twice this year and he's fantastic), King Crimson's Discipline, Eno & Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, The Smith's Strangeways Here We Come, Ringside, and Kate Bush's Ariel.

Strange fascinations: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Jock Rock CDs, some new Ru-Paul dance song about Hollywood, Kronos Quartet's Early Music, Velvet Underground.

Jan's song "Break Free" is receiving play on Rockin Moms Podcast, Celtica Radio, Pirate Moblie Radio and I-Radio FM in Los Angeles. She received an ASCAPlus award in January 2006 and will receive another one in 2007 as an up and coming songwriter.