Hannah Fury review of “Island”2005

review © Hannah Fury 2005
all photos © Jo Gabriel 2005


There are some really gorgeous things happening on Jo Gabriel’s CD Island (Kalinkaland (Germany) 02045, 2005). Her piano playing is absolutely stunning, rich and passionate. And it is of interest to note that she is entirely self-taught. The piano is often accompanied by lavish, sinewy cello that weaves in and out of the rest of the music–sometimes soft and bending, and at other times creating a taut wire of tension through the piece.

Gabriel’s long-time drummer, Linday Mackley, is a commanding and purposeful presence without ever becoming intrusive–just listen near the end of “Wash Away.” Electric guitar, bass and electronic sounds embellish and support many of the songs even further.

Beautiful, fluid melodies conspire with clean production, and the result is music that sneaks into the recesses of the mind–ethereal, yet catchy as hell. But at its core this is mournful music, full of questions and muted unease. And the delicate quality of Ms. Gabriel’s supple, multi-octave voice glimmers with fragility and emotion throughout.

In contrast to the prettiness of the music, the lyrics on Island hold a glowing candle up to the stark faces of loneliness, disillusionment and fear. But in the end it is hope and compassion that are reflected back in the fractured light. The closing song, “Broken,” is alone worth the price of the CD and is a classic by any standards–striking, sorrowful, yearning, pretty. As its title suggests, it is the sound of heartbreak. “Broken” appears in another (equally successful) incarnation on an earlier album, and it will stand the test of time–just watch.

Despite the undeniable quality of Gabriel’s music and her clear expressive talent, it is the camouflaged parts of her songs that show the most courage and complexity. The more these slumbering little details emerge, the more they reveal a very elegant and finely spun work as a whole. Especially intriguing are the strange harmonic backgrounds that curl in smokey tendrils up from underneath the primary music. For example, the shimmery, pulsing, almost dissonant sounds on “Broken,” and the high, warbling strings on “Hold My Breath,” and the other-worldly cricket that joins in at the end of “Wash Away.”

These hidden sounds bleed through the otherwise solid structure of the songs, and it is within these bold, inspired moments that the listener will realize that, though the album is extremely lovely and heartfelt, it scratches only the surface of this artist’s potential.–Hannah Fury in Austin, Texas




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