Jean Synodinos is a singer/songwriter and now prolific painter, hailing from Austin, Texas. This is her fourth album, following her first acclaimed releases Breathe, Lucky and Girls, Good And Otherwise. The latter received the Texas Award for Musical Excellence in 2012. Her music is an eclectic blend of country, folk, blues, jazz and elements of classical, brought together by her warm, distinctive voice which has received critical acclaim in itself.
This album, Love And Blood, consists of eight tracks and is a particularly personal project for Jean, as it is essentially about the relationship with her husband who sadly passed away from having battled the disease of addiction, in the form of alcoholism. It starts off powerfully with opening track End Of The World, a bluesy string-laden epic about a relationship on the rocks: “This is the end of the world…a hundred heroes couldn’t save us now…” she sings on the wonderful chorus. A poignant and heart rending song, with achingly poetic words.
What is immediately striking is the emotional power of Jean’s voice, which, combining with her excellent songwriting and exquisite production, makes for captivating listening. Second track This Morning is just as moving, a delicate acoustic guitar led ballad imagining a happy day lying in bed but contrasted with the reality of her lover having left: “If you could have stayed, we could have laid in bed this morning….every feather in the pillow a thought I should have said….”.
Picture is another fine song, seemingly a sweetly nostalgic song about looking at old pictures, but it really depicts how a picture can show the emotional distance between people and how a captured image can reveal so much about a person: “In every picture, look at you looking right past the camera, keeping your eyes on a far horizon…”.
Mercy, Mercy is a necessary contrast after three such emotional tracks, and this upbeat, jazzy track lightens the mood, augmented by tasteful bursts of brass and barrelhouse piano that really captures the mood. Lyrically, this one is a departure, a narrative that tells of a lover being shot down.
The Morning Does Not Suit Your Eyes returns to the more melancholy, sombre style. The haunting, nocturnal feel of the music with its descending melodies perfectly mirrors the evocative imagery of the lyrics (about all night drinking binges). Jean has a real gift for framing a situation or emotion in a poetic way, something that seems increasingly rare in modern music: “You and your Mistress, you stay up every night, out of sight…empty glasses guard, whilst the sun rises you stumble up to the yard….”.
Forgive Him His Sins is another deeply moving portrait of her relationship with her husband, this one again directly referencing his alcohol problems: “Pick up the bottles, the empties on the floor…and a cry from the bedroom – ‘It won’t happen anymore’…”. Wonderful, brave and honest songwriting that contains more depth in a few bars than many achieve in their whole career.
Bark Right At The Moon is relatively lighter in mood, and perhaps the most traditional track here in terms of genre. It’s a lovely country rock ballad, simply about missing someone deeply, with some gorgeous guitar work throughout.
Real Renegade is a sweet and unexpectedly happily romantic ending to the album: “I’m done running round, I like what I’ve found, my renegades days are through, now I believe I’ll never leave a real renegade like you….”. It’s the upbeat finale that feels right in the context of the album after so much depiction of struggle and pain, though rendered all the more poignant knowing the real life events surrounding it.
Overall, this is an absolute artistic jewel of an album from start to finish. The quality of the songwriting, both musically and, particularly, lyrically is of the highest calibre and you can tell the whole album has been a labour of love. It is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s classic Blue album in the way it lays its heart on its sleeve, and is all the more rewarding for the listener because of it. In an era where the album is quickly becoming a forgotten art form, here is a perfect example of the artistic heights it can achieve.