It grew on me. It took a few days of driving around the Twin Cities listening to Jenny Dalton’s new album Rusalka’s Umbrella, but it finally got under my skin.
It’s a concept album, and the concept is water. The songs (and accompanying book) are inspired, Dalton’s Web site notes, by “a collage of influences including Twin Peaks, the Morton Salt Girl, The Shipping News, ghosts, Memoirs of a Geisha, folktales, The Fall by Albert Camus, the 35W bridge collapse, mermaids and more.” I don’t think I caught all that on the record, but nor did I ever figure out whether Yoshimi beat the robots, or what the hell happened to Billy Shears.
There’s an aptly Eastern European tint to a couple of the songs (in Slavic folklore, a rusalka is a water spirit), but don’t expect Gogol Bordello or even Beirut. Over Stingesquely decorous arrangements, Dalton lilts like Joni Mitchell with the trilling Rs and swallowed vowels of the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. Taken as a package, though, the nearest point of reference is the iconoclastic siren Kate Bush—perhaps the only other living artist who could put such genuine feeling into lyrics like “She fell into the Seine/ her voice still haunting you among the Dutchmen/ Tonight there will be fog/ on the Zuider Zee” or “Six points on a snowflake, eight arrows on a compass/ My brother with a host family playing drums for the Norwegians.” Move along, folks, move along—it’s all part of the concept.
If the album is a little perplexing at first, by the third or fourth listen it does cohere, and it’s well-programmed to sweep the listener from the ominous opener “Better Known Vacancy” to the piano-pounding boogie “The Turn and the River” into the strange realms at the album’s heart, climaxing with the elegant ballad “Dear Paul” and the surging “Puddle Jump” before depositing us back among the “Snow Mazes of Norway.” I’m sorry I missed the album release show at the Ritz, where the music was dramatized by Lamb Lays With Lion. I’m sure the interpretation wasn’t entirely literal, but it occurs to me that from the album’s lyrics you could assemble an alternate-universe Village People: the pirate, the Viking, the test pilot, the surfer, and the sheriff.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
|Also in the Daily Planet, read Rich Horton’s interview with Jenny Dalton.|