Katherine St. Records
Jenni Lyn Gardner, now touring and recording as Jenni Lyn during a break from work with her main band Della Mae, has quickly established herself as a rising star on mandolin and as a performer. Displaying a hard-driving style that evokes musical images of her hero Bill Monroe, along with modern masters such as John Reischman, Sam Bush, and Ronnie McCoury, Lyn steps out of The Dellas’ shadow with a CD of all-original material aimed at the younger bluegrass fans to whom New Grass Revival is a traditional bluegrass band.
The opening cut, “I’m Stronger,” in fact sounds like an NGR cut. Backed by Mike Bub, Frank Rische on guitars and Kyle Tuttle on banjo, the group creates a compelling, tight ensemble sound that gives Lyn the support she needs to light up her plaintive voice and driving mandolin style. “Hickory Holler” is a toe-tapping bluegrass piece that helps establish her more traditional side. A seriously powerful mandolinist, her kickoffs on “You Don’t Love Me,” “Running From The Law,” “Long, Long Gone,” and numerous other solos and fills show a musician who can stand in on mandolin with any players in any bluegrass setting. Along with Lauren Price, Sierra Hull, and others, Lyn is showing that powerhouse bluegrass mandolin is no longer a club for men only.
The songwriting here covers the range from more traditional styles to some cutting-edge modern bluegrass. The title tune is a rhythmically complex, reggae-driven number that will cement her appeal to the jamgrass fans out there. Coming from a band like Della Mae, which has one of the most compelling lead vocalists in bluegrass, it’s hard for Lyn to claim her own place as a lead vocalist. Her voice here tends to waver off-key at times and her delivery can sound forced and somewhat stilted like on “Don’t Cry Little Girl” and Long, Long Gone.” But when she gets the right song, like “Tell Me” or “Are You Okay Alone,” she turns her limitations to a plus. Having an experienced producer oversee this project probably would have smoothed out some rough edges and help guide Lyn to a more refined sound, but for her first solo project, this earns pretty high marks.
Women in bluegrass have made huge and highly welcome advances in recent years. Where it used to be a novelty to see a woman playing mandolin in a bluegrass band or stepping to the mic as a lead singer, today those ridiculous cultural barricades have been torn down and burned to ashes. Jenni Lyn’s debut represents a new artist reaching out to modern audiences with a true-life bluegrass mandolin style—her CD includes a photo of her backstage as a little girl with Bill Monroe showing her some mandolin moves—coupled with a contemporary voice and songwriting style that will win over many younger fans. Burn another CD soon, Jenni! (www.jennilyngardner.com)DJM