In October 2008 I was madly in love with an incredible artist who I met through a mutual friend earlier in September. She was an amazing human being and our affair was a brief one but it was quite an intense journey. In that rush of post-love blues I turned to a whole array of different sounds to help heal the whole broken heart thing. She was a “one in a million” type of relationship and I often think that you only get a handful of “real love” in your life and she is definitely only one of three that have really turned me on and also have a great sense of humour.
One of the albums that got me through the aftermath of this break-up was the amazing “Dead Wood Falls” by Jen Cloher which was an album that I missed when it was released in 2006 but in 2008 it found its way into my world. This was the point where I started to invest quite heavily in the Jen Cloher sound. From start to finish “Dead Wood Falls” is a late night lullaby to the entire hiss of that post-relationship drama. From the artwork of the album down to the songs themselves everything about this album is soaked in the drama of “why doesn’t she love me” confusion.
There are several moments on this album that really strike me on a deep personal level. The first song to wrap its arms around my broken heart was the opening title track. Its opening notes crashed into my world back in October 2008 and helped relaxed my confused mind. This track provides a perfect example of the swoon at the centre of Jen’s music. There is a nice splice of Bob Dylan delivery with Patti Smith poetry framing the whole thing. The song itself rolls gently like a cool hit of a late night breeze in summer where the art of sleeping is suspended by the heat of the season. It was a song I listened to on high rotation at that point in my life because it seemed that I’d built a little fortress of hurt to sizzle in and when my rage settled into longing this was the first song I reached for. I still have an array of images of that amazing human being I was in love with attack my mind when I hear this song.
The albums seventh track “Rain” is the next song I’d nominate as a highlight and an example of the Jen Cloher magic. The song itself flirts with that storytelling tradition but the song doesn’t slip into the cliché’s that often come along with that creative template. There is still a healthy dose of fiction acting as the safe place for the real hurt of this piece of communication to be buried so that you get the perfect mix of personal pain and metaphors. Regardless of all this scientific dissection the fact remains that the song “Rain” has a powerful dialogue capable of cutting you deep and hitting you directly. When you hear those lyrics you know that Jen lived every inch of them and like all of the classic songwriters of our time it connects to your story and helps give light to both the confusion and conclusion needed to discover that brand new start. That is the power of “Rain” as a song and I can get lost in it when I hear it, a great way to travel back to that 2008 love affair but also a perfect way to imagine future romance, it is a brilliant spark for the creative muse.
The final track on the album “Streetlights Not The Stars” puts a perfect full stop to the wonderful dialogue of “Dead Wood Falls” and serves as the glimmer of hope that love may escape but as the light escapes a new day will rise birthing new opportunities. I’ve often found that this song best describes that joy of staying awake all night and just witnessing the bliss of the night turning into day and the refreshing nature of watching the sun rise. In your fatigued state you almost taste the madness of insanity yet seeing the new day happening right in front of you pushes you to collapse and glimpse a moment of happiness. This brief state of joy is the boost you need to remind you that there is good air to breathe. That is the kind of swoon swirling in a song like “Streetlights Not The Stars” and I just love this song so much.
Those three songs may be my personal favourites but there are so many other highlights on this Australian classic. As far as debut albums go it is quite a strong first statement and sets the scene perfectly for Jen’s next record “Hidden Hands” which I will discuss more in depth tomorrow.
What makes “Dead Wood Falls” so fantastic is its simplicity. It combines honesty and minimal folk styling’s to explode a wonderful collection of songs that showcase a very disciplined artist. Every song is carefully crafted and placed on this album to give a continuity that is vital to helping you the listener connect to all of the stories being expressed. The honesty of these songs once again speak volumes about Jen’s character as a songwriter and I have to admit that a lot of my favourite performances from Jen occurred on this album but once again that is due to the sentimentality I attach to this record. This album soundtracked a rather difficult period of time in my life but it is music that has a great amount of joy attached to it and it is that cycle of joy that it inspires that keeps me coming back for repeated listens all these years later. I recommend this album to anyone nursing a broken heart; you’ll soon find that joy I’m speaking of.
By: Dan Newton