Official website: www.jennifermaidman.com
Jennifer Maidman is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer originally from Upminster, England. Jennifer has had a remarkable and extensive musical career casting back to 1976, with her first release being L-L-Lazy Days as a writer member of the group Red Hot. While working at Decibel Studios in London she recorded and mixed Marc Bolan’s I Love To Boogie.
She then went to become a founder member of Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1984-2007), several members of which contributing on this album. As a musician, producer or writer has worked with an array of famous artists including Joan Armatrading, Ian Dury, Boy George, Shakespeare’s Sister and Linda McCartney, to name but a few. Amongst numerous commercial successes, the album Hormonally Yours by Shakespeare’s Sister stands out. It went double platinum, spawning the hit single Stay which reached number one in several countries.
This album, Dreamland consists of seventeen tracks and it’s an epic musical odyssey that encompasses an eclectic range of genres including rock, funk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, spoken word and musique concrete, Irish folk and world music…. sometimes within the same song!
It was recorded largely in 2016 at Dreamland studios in Woodstock, in Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. Jennifer has recruited a team of musicians of the highest quality (Jerry Marotta on drums , David Torn plays guitars & Annie Whitehead plays trombone, Paul Brady, Robert Wyatt, Sam Brown, Mitt Gamon) that have helped her realize her creative vision, and the flawless production matches the musical ambition of the project. Jennifer produced the album herself, another string to her bow.
Opening track Conspiracy of Dreamers is an odyssey in itself, a smoky, seven minute rock/funk track with soul and gospel thrown into the mix. Lyrically, it’s very apposite for the era, and could be perceived about wanting to escape and transcend the endless political and social turmoil. It also relates to the whole album’s theme of achieving your dreams and achieving freedom to be truly yourself as an individual.
While the album does deal with universal themes and issues, it is essentially about the emotional and spiritual journey Jennifer has gone through as a transgender person. The documentary that accompanies the album gives insight into its genesis and subject matter, with second track Hinterland containing a spoken word excerpt that depicts the sense of emotional isolation she felt growing up. This documentary was made by Dakota Lane and has been selected by the NYC Indie film festival to be screened in May.
This sense of isolation and turmoil is explored in Outside, which is a complete contrast to the musical fireworks of the first track. Just piano and Jennifer’s vocal comprise the soundscape, the sparseness suiting to the vulnerability and emotional rawness of the lyrics. It brought to mind the fragile beauty of Antony and The Johnsons, with Antony also a transgender artist.
The following Red Heart reverts back to the style of the opening song, a driving piece of rock/funk about expressing a passionate and sensual temperament. The music captures perfectly the primal energy that the song is depicting and hits upon a killer groove. The musical modulations cleverly reflect the subject matter and creates a fierce musical tension.
This Man Is Dangerous is one of the most emotive songs on the album, about how Jennifer felt almost like a malevolent presence in the world as a man: “Caught in the shadow of a man you’ll never be, running from a face without a name….”. The Letting Go is another epic eight minute song, and this one brought to mind the more reflective songs on David Bowie’s last two albums. There is a similar worldly wisdom to the lyrics, borne from authentic lived experience.
O Caroline is a nice change of pace, an acoustic ballad that brought to mind the songwriting of Ray Davies of The Kinks and is one of the most conventional love songs on the album, musically, with a very catchy hook. No Man’s Land is another well arranged and detailed song with an orchestral feel.
In parts, it sounds like E.L.O. and early Pink Floyd, when Syd Barrett was the main creative force, and at times has the jazz-tinged symphonic grandeur of Brian Wilson’s legendary Smile album. Lyrically, it depicts the healing ability of both music and love as well as a feeling of finding home after a long period of estrangement.
Bird Dreams is an evocative spoken word instrumental that somehow seems to have delved into the collective unconscious and captured the wisdom that comes in dreams: “To be a bird, one must first learn the art of perfect waiting….a sea of agitation drowns the precious moment…the demon of logic consumes your precious bird dreams….”.
Open The Door is a welcome return to the funky and uplifting soul-infused rock of the earlier songs. About halfway through, it modulates and drifts off to some wonderfully unexpected places. The jazz influence is more manifest in the haunting Land of Dreams, with rich, Bacharach-esque chordal voicings. Lyrically, it brings us back to the album’s title and underlying theme, and achieves a remarkably dislocated, dreamlike sense of floating outside time and space.
Here, another short audio excerpt from the documentary (featuring the voice of its maker, Dakota Lane) depicts the imagery of a crow, and the parallel between the freedom of bird flight and Jennifer’s journey of self is obvious. The brief but lovely Home takes us back to the delicate piano balladry of Outside (this one with a beautiful string arrangement) and lyrically seems pivotal to the album’s theme: “Born such a long way from our home….”.
The Magic Voice is one of the finest songs on the album, an ode to the redemptive and spiritual power of music itself (“A mystical phone, a shaman in my head…”) and the kind of quirky and inventive pop at which the British have always excelled. It brings to mind the restless inventiveness of Todd Rundgren’s similarly mystical and epic album A Wizard, A True Star along with The Beatles at their most avant garde.
The way the music drifts off into another sonic universe from around the three minute mark is very cleverly executed, flowing seamlessly into the transcendental last two tracks, both instrumentals. Higher Than Life? has a tribal feel that made me think of the wild freeform jazz of Miles Davis’s classic Bitches Brew.
The closing Crow’s Dance brings us back to earth, as if the crow has finally reached its destination. It’s a joyous mélange of Irish folk and world music featuring accordion, brass, strings, mandolin and more. It’s superbly arranged with a subtle intricacy and somehow seems the perfect way to complete this epic emotional and musical story.
Overall, in an era where art and culture is increasingly adapted to the short attention span of the modern generation, to make such a sprawling and musically ambitious album cannot be commended highly enough. It shows artistic integrity and bravery, and the result is a unique musical document of her own emotional journey, saying plenty of truthful wisdom about life and the world along the way. A wonderful album by a very individual artist which richly deserves all the plaudits it receives.
VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10
Watch a short documentary on the making of the album:
Buy the album from CD Baby HERE