Winter for Beginners (Cellar Live)
Criticism is a lonely job: sometimes it’s easy to think that no one’s listening, until foot lands firmly in mouth and the lynch mob descends. But when I reviewed Jaclyn Guillou’s previous CD, The Lover’s Walk, and suggested that she might want to strip her music of its “jazz-singer” clichés, she didn’t call for my head on a platter. Instead, she sent me a gracious thank-you note and got right to work.
Winter for Beginners, which consists of seven original compositions, a Phoebe Snow cover, and the Pauline Johnson–inspired canoeing song “Land of the Silver Birch”, finds Guillou galloping toward artistic maturity, both as a singer and as a writer. Based on the time-tested “four seasons” concept, the record establishes the vocalist as a nature mystic (in the manner of Johnson, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, among others) before cycling through a year in her life, from the appropriately melancholic “When the Leaves Fall” to the quietly radiant “Summer Where? (Mr. Sun)”.
Guillou hasn’t abandoned jazz—which isn’t surprising, given that Winter for Beginners was coproduced by trumpeter Brad Turner, with pianist Bruno Hubert anchoring a stellar quintet—but her focus is increasingly on her songwriting. When she does indulge in vocal improvisation, she’s cut back on the gymnastics in favour of a more directly emotive approach, something that works very well with this disc’s elemental themes.
Where Guillou will go from here is anyone’s guess, but if this upward trajectory continues, it’ll be a journey worth following.