Image © Bow Jenkins 2003
(07 December 2004) In some ways this is a remarkable and determined piece of work from fifteen year-old Bow Jenkins who lives in Devon in the UK. Innocence And Experience, her first album, was recorded earlier this year (2004) and Bow not only wrote nine of the ten songs featured (the other being the traditional "Wade In The Water") but arranged all the tracks, did all the vocals on the album and she even plays keyboard on a couple of tracks. She saved up to buy the recording time by baby-sitting and by vocal session work at her local studio. Oh, and she also designed the CD and booklet. There's actually no credit given for production, but Bow comments, "I had to fight every day to keep the technician and some of the musicians from taking my work over and changing it," so we can probably chalk that up to her as well.
The album opens with two terrific songs, the beautiful, piano driven "Say Goodbye," and "I Remember" which has a fine, sing-along chorus with Bow providing some interesting harmony. Certainly ones first reaction is that the mature sound of Bow's voice totally belies her age and she's definitely at her best when singing within herself. It's when she attempts to go beyond the current capabilities of her voice that the album is less successful - for example the bluesy "Walk Away," "The Ghost of Johnny Cash" and the unaccompanied gospel song that closes the album where the American accent she employs detracts markedly from the performance.
Together with the two opening songs, the other standout track is "Sunrise On Venus" which has an mysterious atmosphere – the whispered backing on the chorus is very effective as is the high, almost spoken harmony in the verses.
The musicians that accompany her are various, but the arrangements throughout are for drums, bass, guitar and keyboard. Perhaps this is one of the weaknesses of the album – it needs some variation - her voice would lend itself so well to a couple of just piano and vocal tracks to break up the similarity of each arrangement. One of the keyboard players, Dhevdhas Nair, displays a sympathetic feel on the songs he contributes to. There are also tracks where the electric guitar and/or the drums seem superfluous and/or clumsy.
Greater discipline and some ruthlessness would also have helped. For example "The Devil On The Hill" is potentially a very good and interesting song, at times reminiscent of early Strawbs, but as it stands, it's way too long and any impact is dissipated over its five and half minutes. It could easily lose at least two verses and choruses. The same could probably be said of "Prayer" which has another nice chorus but maybe takes one verse too many to get to it, but it's still a fine track lifted by some lovely Spanish guitar work by David Osbiston.,
Any one of half a dozen of these songs if heard on its own would definitely make you sit up and pay attention – but together there's not really enough variation in the writing, arrangements or accompaniments to hold the interest for the whole 44 minutes of this album. The four best tracks, "I Remember," "Say Goodbye," "Sunrise On Venus" and "Prayer" would have made a terrific EP- for on the tracks where it comes together there's a definite WOW! factor. Innocence And Experience is a promising debut from an undoubtedly talented young artist.--Jamie Field in Kington, England