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Music Review: Jen & Abby – Cannot Rearrange

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When musician Jennifer Trani met up with actor Abby Miller in 2005, something special got started in Los Angeles. Their ear-pleasing blend of acoustic pop and folk-rock lyrical sensibilities was recorded and released in 2008 as the album Cannot Rearrange, which has been sitting in my "must review" queue for almost a year. Yikes!

Now that I've given it a good listen, I'm kicking myself for not doing so sooner. Abby's alto vocals have a pleasantly rough edge to them. She delivers the music with a quiet intensity in one moment, and in the next she's belting out with attention-commanding power. Jen is responsible for the guitar work on the album, which she deftly uses to spice up songs with dashes of blues and rock.

Frustratingly, although the lyrics are clearly an integral part of the duo's art, the digipak does not include them. Many of the songs are about loves lost/won, regrets/joys… you know, the usual.

Jen & Abby | photo by David Muller

The title track, while not the most exciting arrangement on the album, hits a bit too close to home as someone who's been in a relationship that in reality wasn't what she imagine it to be. Abby sings, "I envy the pool you dive into head-first. I dip my toes on occasion. Now I thirst for you, but you're too far away, and I cannot dive into my life with you. I cannot rearrange." She follows up with, "We're going through the motions again. You live in reality and I'm still playing pretend." Ouch.

One of the things I like about this album is that the duo could easily lean hard on the slow, melodic folksy area of the singer-songwriter spectrum, which they do well, but they also have a knack of writing naval-gazing tunes that also have you tapping your toes along with the beat. Lyrically, "Lightweight" could be about the same relationship as "Cannot Rearrange," but in this case, the hooky melody and acoustic guitar pattern had me bobbing my head and tapping my toes, despite the not-so-sunny lyrics. ("You always said I was a good girl. You always said I knew what to do. You always said I wasn't the shy one. But, boy, I sure was fooling you.")

Cannot Rearrange is a pleasant mix of slow ballads and toe-tapping romps, delivered along side thoughtful lyrics. Those who do not fear a girl and her guitar will find this indie release to be a delightful addition to their music collection. I recommend tracking down a copy while you still can.

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