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Music Review: Jackie Bristow – Freedom

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New Zealand-born Jackie Bristow manages to capture an American spirit in her 2011 album, Freedom. It stumbles a bit to find a real soul, but there are gems of potential throughout, from occasional lyrics to some strong uses of Bristow’s vocal ability.

For people new to Bristow, Jackie’s voice is a cross between Jewel and Dolly Parton, but she still needs a bit of time to mature. Freedom seems to try a bit too hard to be a Billboard-style country/Americana album when it should have embraced it’s more homegrown roots.

The biggest problem with Bristow’s album was the weak arrangements. She seems a bit drowned out by the backup singers and arrangement in “Freedom.”

There are sections in songs where she has lines without any instrumentation, and the echo seemed really poor, which makes her voice seem even thinner than one would hope. The opening to “Pray for the Love” sounds almost like Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me,” but without the strong catchy hook.

If I took Bristow’s voice out of “Hightail It Outta Here,” I could imagine myself in a country line dance club; the arrangement was quite generic. I didn’t understand why some songs had such an overpowering backup, when “Warning Signs” had a light harmony line that was done by Jackie. The overproduction of several songs did a disservice to her.

There are moments where Jackie’s overall lyrics are a bit cliché, and where her lyrical choices come from a rhyming dictionary. The song “I Pray for the Love” was one of the biggest offenders, where words like “sin” is rhymed with “in” and “mistake” with “slate.” The song “Holy Mess” is a bit repetitive, where most of the song consisted of the phrase “Don’t leave me this way.” It’s a shame because on a second listen, the lyrics about the mother and grandmother had a lot of potential.

There are definite times where I think Jackie Bristow wanted to be someone like James Taylor, or even Delta Goodrem, but Jackie needs to tap into the rebel she sings about in “Rebel in My Soul” because she was sounding as conventional as she was singing against.

Outside the somewhat repetitive and cliché lyrics, Bristow shows promise. Her songs are positive and upbeat and her voice has a nice spunk to it. I really liked the song “Warning Signs,” which has some interesting vocal lilts, and the harmonies used in the song were done well.

Bristow has more of an opportunity to shine when her arrangements are stripped down. The song “Running” has a good spirit and passion where Bristow is the focal point. The lyics are direct and believable, and in this song Mark Punch, who provides the electric guitar for most of the tracks on Freedom, manages to have a strong, distinctive solo but doesn’t drown Bristow out.

The song “River” has a well done arrangement, especially regarding the backing vocals. “Broken Girl” sounds great right at the beginning and at the bridge, when most of the arrangement disappears and is left with just her and the guitar.

Jackie Bristow tried to show what repertoire was in Freedom instead of staying with her more guitar-driven album, Crazy Love. While there are strong moments of seductive love, there are definitely moments of crazy where she shouldn’t have considered the arrangements that were made in songs.

To quote her song “Broken Girl,” “I’ll speak my mind, I’ll cross the line.” Some of the lyrics felt original, but she crossed the line of taste to something that sounded really generic.

I would have loved the whole album if the songs were all like “River,” where the arrangement was done correctly. I would have appreciated “Rebel in My Soul” in a different context as well.

I’d definitely suggest Crazy Love over Freedom but if you are a fan, a handful of songs like “Aotearoa” captures the same spirit as Crazy Love.

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About Michael Pascua