2009 album New Moon Born by Jana Mashonee is a fresh blend of musical styles, mixing world music, rhythm and blues, and soul. Her music brings to mind that of artists like Corinne Bailey Rae or Brit-pop artist Adele, if either was more enthused. You know that sort of music that, for lack of a better description, makes you feel good? That's what this is. By the end of it, I was cheering her along, and for good reason.
Mashonee has steadily been gaining in popularity and garnering increasing attention from the mainstream music scene. Most recently, she performed at the 2009 American Indian Presidential Inaugural Ball, singing a cover of the Sam Cooke song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” She has toured extensively through 48 states, as well as Canada and Europe. Previous releases include Grammy-nominated 2006 album American Indian Story, and holiday album American Indian Christmas.
Admittedly, New Moon Born gets off to a slow start. The first four tracks are generic and entirely forgettable, though it would be a pity if anyone stopped listening at the four
song mark. Where this album really shines is in the second half.
It finds its stride with the fifth track, “Miracle,” and doesn’t look back. The song opens with a strong funk flavor, and is much better suited to her talents than the earlier stuff. There’s a great amount of personality in the piece – it’s got a little attitude, a hint of playfulness, and a fun chorus. It’s a good change in tone, and performed flawlessly. Compared to “Miracle,” the earlier songs seem like false starts. Lyrics like, “It was a miracle / Not an ordinary day / It was quite beautiful / I’ll never let it slip away” add even more spirit.
Further into the album, songs like “Angel” and “Lessons Learned” are toned down and more reserved, but maintain the quality of performance seen in “Miracle.” In particular, “Angel” is impressive; the instrumentation is simpler than other songs on the album, but it works well – the piano, acoustic guitar and light background percussion are mixed well, and serve as an excellent foundation to showcase Mashonee’s superb vocal performance.
“Never Fall” features an upbeat tempo that’s a bit jazzy. The use of organ is a nice touch in this song, and perfectly suited to the song’s tone. Personally, I would love for the attitude and energy that she sometimes displays to carry over into more of her songs. She sings, “I have stepped off the edge / Now I’m flying forever,” and it comes through in the album – the closer you are to the end of the album, the better the songs get. It continues to improve through “Lost In Lies,” with softer, more heartfelt vocals, and wonderful piano and strings adding depth. “Carousel” is an incredible track; it takes on a driving, upbeat sound not unlike a gospel song. It’s got great soul, and Derek Miller puts in a solid performance on guitar.
For all the strengths of this record, it has a glaring flaw. On many of the songs, instrumental parts are synthesized, and it’s painfully obvious. I have wonder how hard it would have been to find some decent musicians to record these – the parts aren’t difficult. Using synthesized music feels weak, and makes some otherwise great songs sound stale. If Jana Mashonee changes one thing on her future endeavors, it should be to drop the synth and find some real musicians to round out her ensemble.
New Moon Born is a powerful, heartfelt performance. Though it gets off to a slow start, the album finds it’s rhythm with songs like “Miracle” and “Angel,” and afterward doesn’t stop. Mashonee’s voice is absolutely intoxicating, full of power and energy. Overall, New Moon Born is a great release, and one I thoroughly recommend for anyone into world music or soul.