For a lot of musicians, recording a second CD is typically a tough proposition. Do you take your music in a new direction, or do you maintain some aspects of the first CD that garnered attention and fans? Jennifer Lynn ’03 manages to do both on her sophomore effort, The Way I Feel Tonight.
From the opening track, “Waitin’ On A Pretty Girl,” you know you’re in for a change in this CD. The subtle acoustic-guitar intro quickly gives way to a boot-stomping country rocker, full of blazing country chicken-pickin’ guitar and feisty vocals. Shifting between the blues-inspired “You Got Me Where I Want Me” to the classic country shuffle of “Feel Like Fallin’,” the CD slows only briefly throughout its 46 minutes, giving you one smoking-hot release from the Portland, Oregon native. Lynn wrote all the songs but the Hank Williams classic, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” which she easily makes her own.
Recording at 8-Ball Studio in Portland, Jennifer brought in her touring band, including Tim Cowan on acoustic guitar, Jason Barlow on lead guitar, fiddle, and backing vocals, Larry Berent on bass, and Vince Adame on drums. Keith McCarthy plays bass on “Feel Like Fallin’.” An instrument new to the lineup is the pedal steel guitar, which is played masterfully on almost all 12 tracks by Doug Jones. All members are obviously well rehearsed, as the performance is very tight, and they sacrifice no emotion in their playing.
One nice surprise to the CD is the appearance of guest pianist and Hammond organist Sweet Basil McJagger, a member of the wildly popular Austin, Texas honky-tonk band, The Derailers. Live, I once saw Basil back-pedal up the wall behind his piano, do a handstand on his organ, and solo, all at the same time, and all without missing a note. So you can imagine the ability and energy his talent adds.
With this CD, Jennifer’s vocals find themselves somewhere between the brashness of Nashville’s Gretchen Wilson and the sweetness of Faith Hill. On the title track, “The Way I Feel Tonight,” she gives the listener a growly attitude in the vein of Seattle native and Northwest sweetheart Brandi Carlile, confident and moody. The years on the road playing the honky-tonks have obviously helped to shape Lynn’s tonal range and modulation.
Jennifer stays within the traditional country music subjects throughout the CD, including loving, losing, and drinking, but with this effort her treatment of those subjects has matured. In “Soon,” she laments, “No more I’m sorry / No more I’m gonna try / No more I’m gonna change / No more I’ve seen the light / No more one last time.” Sung to an up-tempo beat, the lyrics pop.
Slowing things down, “The Whiskey” is a beautiful waltz reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam’s “South of Cincinnati,” a Shakespearian story told from different perspectives, and in the true spirit of tragedy, the key players harbor dark secrets. Like Yoakam, Jennifer wraps the tale in weeping pedal steel, mournful violin, and visual lyrics. When she sings, “She cried and cried / over what she had done / Asked the lord to come take her away / And the whiskey / takes another love tonight,” her voice is filled with emotion and sadness, and the story becomes yours.
The addition of the pedal steel and the tasteful playing of guitarist Jason Barlow—who also plays a b eautiful violin part on “The Whiskey”—give this CD a sound more reminiscent of Nashville than Portland. But with its Pacific Northwest influences and vocal styling, it sits comfortably between the two cities.
All in all, The Way I Feel Tonight is a great follow-up from Jennifer and company to their first CD, Leavin’. It’s a more polished, more self-confident album from a more professional singer. With this band, and her wonderful and continually maturing voice, she is bound to become a nationally recognized singer.
Well done, Jennifer!