“Four years after here debut, Breakin’ Loose, Jenn Cleary returns with another nice album full of blues rockers, acoustic tunes and even some children’s songs. After a hiatus of two years, Jenn compiles the best of her self-penned songs since her debut and works them out with some of her band members and some of the best session musicians of the Colorado era. The result is a twelve song album called Back To The Wheel.
Over the past two years Jenn Cleary has of course done more then writing new songs. She earned some awards, received a lot of radio attention both in the US and Europe and gathered an ever growing fan base.
Opening the album is “Summertime is the Time”, a tune that immediately gives us the warm and sultry voice Ms Cleary. Title track “Back To Wheel, reminds me of Janis Joplin, while Completely Free reflects the singer songwriter in her. Sun Don’t Shine, returns to the old fashioned Chicago Blues, adding some great piano to it and on Those Boys she’s rocks and shakes the blues chords into a swinging, poppy blues track. Hope is one of those tunes that is a bit off the beaten path. With some Tibetan flute and Asian percussion, this is more a folk tune, but you have to understand that this is about her adopted Tibetan daughter. And that brings us to the fact that the tunes from this album come straight from the heart. Many of them are inspired by her own experiences; some are really autobiographical while others are inspired by the people around here. Whatever it is, these songs are about her own life and experiences and that is always a good start to create music.”
Mr Blue Boogie
“She may sound sassy and assured, but there’s something distinctly old school and traditional about Colorado’s Jenn Cleary. One need venture no further than the embraceable melodies that survey swing, blues and retro pop in ways that make them seem both new and yet strikingly familiar. As a result, Back to the Wheel provides such a vast potpourri of moods and music that anyone attempting to pigeonhole her might well end up seething with frustration. The Cajun shuffle “Summertime’s the Time” (a celebratory sequel Mungo Jerry might have otherwise embraced), the effortlessly upbeat “Last Day of Vacation Blues,” the sassy vamp “Don’t Try and Change Me” and the retro soul embossed in “Back to the Wheel” and “Those Boys” (each of which would have found a natural fit with Janis Joplin and Southside Johnny, respectively) find her off in different directions at the expense of espousing any single style.
Still Cleary’s clearly not fickle, at least in terms of her emotional investment. On intimate ballads like “Moments of Grace,” Hope” and “Little Mr. Street Survivor,” she’s capable of bringing her listeners to tears by recounting the sad stories of children sidelined by disease and those otherwise victimized by indifference and misfortune. For all her outreach and versatility, it’s those bittersweet moments that create the most lingering bonds and make Back to the Wheel so absolutely affecting.”
Cleary’s Wheel by Bruce Von Stiers
“Jenn Cleary is one of those singer songwriters who goes unnoticed for quite a while and then with a song or two gets a touch of the spotlight. Jenn had a debut album about four years ago that got her some recognition but didn’t propel her to the national spotlight. But Jenn has a new album out that should place her in the top tier of blues rock performers.
This new album is titled Back To The Wheel. Jenn has taken twelve of the best songs that she’s written over the last couple of years and put them into the album.
On all of the songs on the album Jenn does the vocals and plays acoustic guitar. She brought in members of her band and some great studio musicians to help out on the album. Eric Moon plays the accordion, synth, B3 organ, piano and grand piano. Brian Schey is on bass. Christian Teele is the drummer and does the cowbell and shaker on separate songs. Nick Forster plays electric guitar, slide guitar and mandolin on the album.
John McVey produced the album. He also played electric guitar and ebo along with providing background vocals. Mad Dog Friedman played harmonica. Doug Moldawsky played electric guitar on one song and Eban Grace was on steel pedal guitar for another. There was one song where Jesse Mano played the flute along with some very interesting international instruments. And the great Megan Burtt provided background vocals for the album.
Summertime’s The Time is the first track on the album. It is a fun, slightly head bopping tune with good acoustic guitar, cool piano and moderate vocals. It has a bit of zydeco at the front.
Last Day of Vacation Blues is a light, rollicking blues tune about having to go home and the fun she’s had on vacation. There’s some tough guitar in the middle.
I consider the title track Back to the Wheel to be the one of the best on the album. Jenn kind of reminded me of Janis Joplin, only with a bit more subtle vocals.
Little Mr. Street Survivor is more of an alt folk tune. It’s about a street kid; telling him to stand tall and “to your own self be true.” It is mellow, yet has more than a touch of angst.
Completely Free is another mellow song, this one with nice guitar and subtle synth.
Jenn comes right back with a slick blues piece with great harmonica called Sun Don’t Shine.
I really liked the acoustic guitar in the alt folk rock song called Moments of Grace.
Toe tapping blues music can be found in Don’t Try And Change Me. It’s an in-your-face piece about not conforming to what he wants her to be.
Another song that I really liked on the album is Those Boys. Jenn sings about boys who are adventurous and free. The vocals are great, the guitar terrific and the harmonica is awesome.
You can almost hear the smile in her voice as Jenn sings in My Favorite Place.
Hope had some really good music with the djembe, flute gobexhan and aud.
The last song is one that has a bit of Country, a bit of folk and a sliver of blues. It is called In The Sunshine.
I really enjoyed Back To The Wheel. There is a bit of several styles of music contained in the songs. Jenn Cleary wrote about things in her life and observations on others that translated very well into blues and alt rock tunes. She has the talent to indeed take her to the top tier of blues rock performers.”
Bluesy singer/song- writer Jenn Cleary isn’t quite a household name, but she has a growing base of followers that includes new Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who became a fan a few years ago when he was managing the Colorado Rockies. “Back to the Wheel” is the Colorado native’s sophomore full-length and finds her channeling the likes of heavyweights Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt throughout the 12-track release. The record kicks into high gear with the piano boogie of “Last Day of Vacation Blues” and continues with a series of keep- ers that include the Joplin-esque title track, “Completely Free,” “Moments of Grace,” “Don’t Try and Change Me” and “Hope.” If you dig old school blues-tinged rock, Cleary’s latest is a worthy addition to your collection. (JS)
“The promo lit tells us Jenn Cleary’s style is a “mix of acoustic rock and blues” but, really, she gets to so much more than that: zydeco, old school pop, out and out folk, troubadour, N’Orleans, hell: more than a few modes, and she often approaches her work from a Harry Chapin-ish POV, telling stories about the Everyman/woman, the trials and travails of day-to-day life, tons of sympathy reaching for the lost and forgotten but also a steadfast backbone of hope for each and every one of those trying to find their way up from the bottom. She even catches that cool Chris deBurgh habit of breathy commentary asides, something one doesn’t often run across.
Back to the Wheel shimmers with catchy tunes and is ultimately blues/folk based, probably, though I hesitate mightily to pin it down. In Completely Free and elsewhere, Cleary even captures strong evocations of Terry Garthwaite (anyone remember the righteous old Joy of Cooking band?), and in Nick Forster she located a guitarist who reminds me a lot of a favored ol’ indie rocker, John Zawacki, a cat who knew his rock from his roll and never hesitated to play the tar outta both. All Cleary’s songs are varying degrees of zesty, heartfelt, introspective, shout-out-loudy, but there are some that are just uncategorizable, like Those Boys, my favorite cut, a paean without a resolve but one that leaves you thinking…and thinking…and thinking. The woman’s lyrics here are more gestural than most would dare pen but work like a charm.
In sum-up, then, how would I typify Jenn Cleary? I wouldn’t. She’s a free spirit with a very attractive blend of the traditional and the anarchic, a human being who advocates the condition and invites all to step up to it. She is, dare I say it?, a latter-day hippie of the Woodstock variety, and, man o man, can we ever have too much of that?”
The Colorado blues singer-songwriter has released her second album, Back to the
Wheel. The cd begins with “Summertime’s the Time,” an energetic blues rock song that
embraces the love of the season, making me feel warm and nostalgic for those lazy July
days as I find myself in the crispness of a November afternoon. With the driving bass,
the tinkling of the piano keys, and the blues of Jenn’s vocals, the song also grabs the
attention of the listener as Jenn’s style is boldly proclaimed.
Jenn touches on the silly, the spirit, and the pain in the span of 12 songs. In “My Favorite
Place,” she sings from a child’s perspective as she talks to a squirrel, a bee, and a robin,
but in the very next song, “Hope,” Jenn sings, “I wanna talk about hope/I’m talkin’ about
people opening their hearts.” She jumps from the innocence and wonderment of a child
enjoying nature to an adult who yearns for a world where all children could experience
this carefree freedom but yet cannot as they are burdened with strife. I like that she
focuses on the positive; because people can come together and help, we can eradicate
some of the grief going on in the world.
Not that all the songs on Back to the Wheel focus on issues like these or are told with
childlike innocence. In “Don’t Try to Change Me,” Jenn declares “If you’re stayin’ here,
then take me as I am/accept this girl for what you see/Or you can move on baby, ‘cause
I’d rather be free.” The song is sung with the sass of a girl bold enough to point out that
sometimes she contradicts herself but strong enough to say she won’t alter who she is just
to have a man in her life.
While it’s her energy and blues style that makes her so enjoyable to listen to, it is
her positive spirit that makes her so endearing. Jenn closes the album with “In the
Sunshine,” a song that embraces a moment of happiness after a period of grayness. The
focus on the positive, even if for a second, rather than clinging to the ache of a trial, will
have me returning to this album for repeated listens.
Please visit www.jenncleary.com for more information or buy her songs off of iTunes.
Jenn Cleary: Back to the Wheel
Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins