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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Jennifer Daniels
Label: TNtrees Music
Times: 12 tracks/49:34 minutes
The Phantom Tollbooth readers and writers have enjoyed music from Jennifer Daniels, arguably one of the most talented songwriter-vocalists in the Southeastern United States, for several years. This writer has been waiting for the project that ties up any loose ends and is absolutely flawless, and the wait is over. It's called Summer Filled Sky.
What loose ends? The compilation of the perfect Daniels songs. She includes not one but two of her signature songs, jam-up renditions of "Day to Live" (which kicks off this project) and "Mary's Song" (originally from her first EP An Invitation). Two signature songs? It's up to the listener to decide his or her favorite. There are also excellent recordings of familiar "Water Spider," "Spiderman," and concert favorites, "Julie" and "Tattoo."
These songs are incredibly well produced by Mike Steele and Jeff Neal, giving Daniels the full-bodied production values that her compositions have richly deserved. Long-time fans of Daniels will simply be blown away by strong guitar choruses and backing vocals to complement her voice on those signature songs that lend themselves to--borrowing an idea from Phil Spector--create a wall of sound for Jennifer Daniels. The results are awesome.
It's easy to see possible reservations from first-time listeners of Daniels' music, and my only suggestion is to not stop at "Day to Live," as first-time listeners may think, "Slick CCM; been there, done that" and pop out the CD. Listeners who enjoyed Daniels' sole guitar-vocal style will drink in "Tattoo," "Conversations with Magdalene," "Water Spider," and "Julie" (the last title builds wonderfully in its full-band arrangement). I'll admit that I was getting restless in my first listen with this project, wondering where music collaborator-producer-husband Jeff Neal's beautiful mandolin was. Answer: "Spiderman," which is worth the wait.
New to Jennifer Daniels' music? Here's the essence of this songwriter: the world can be dark at times, but there's always light at the end of the tunnel. Here's a prime example--from "Stay": "When it rains ... / the whole house slips away / Under blankets playing games / And speaking words the way / The sun warms up the day / Why don't you stay. . . / Dream about a brighter day that's coming until you / Believe it's already on its way." And only Jennifer Daniels can take an account of a c-section and make it into a miracle ("Tattoo"). And here's the essence of this singer: Daniels' voice has never sounded so solid and versatile, as so many of these songs challenge her to hit far-reaching soprano notes that I've only heard in concert. This recording is the best representation I have heard of Daniels' vocal quality, debatably only be heard on Live @ the Evening Muse (recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina).
In the extra-tocks department, Daniels' web site is well maintained and always current, with concert information, as well as snippets of music and news. The songs on Summer Filled Sky translate very well in concert, whether with a full band or by Daniels and Jeff Neal.
The verdict? For the listener who has ever heard of Jennifer Daniels--as well as for long-time Daniels fans--Summer Filled Sky is a requirement, not an option. This artist has hit her stride full-force. This is Jennifer Daniels!
Olin Jenkins July 15, 2004