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BWW CD Review: Jen Houston's I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE PIE Is Country Confection

It turns out the NOW THIS political parodist is an Alt-country singer-songwriter responsible for some kick-ass tunes.

BWW CD Review: Jen Houston's I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE PIE Is Country Confection

Who would have thought, watching Jennifer Leigh Houston do those vintage girl group shows and that Jerry Livingston revue, that she was an alt-country rocker chick? Well, this cabaret-goer didn't, and when she released her album I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE PIE, I suspect fans from her days in musicals like Chicago and Anything Goes were probably equally surprised. It's just a reminder that we never know all the sides of an artist... after all, Patti LuPone once told Seth Rudetsky she listens to rock music in her dressing room before a performance. So it turns out that Jen Houston writes and sings Alt-Country, and it's something she does rather well, judging by the eleven track album made up of one cover and nine Jen Houston originals (one track is featured twice).

Recording an album of all original material is a heady challenge not to be taken lightly, and not something usually to be discovered on a CD originating out of the cabaret and club industry, though not entirely unheard of. Jazz musicians Gabrielle Stravelli and Nicole Zuraitis sing compositions of their own creation, and musical directors Blake Allen and Brad Simmons are songwriters as well as MD's - the key to the equation is the genre into which these albums of original music fall. The nightclub industry is becoming more and more inclusive, with grayer boundaries separating the type of music to be found in the small venues of Manhattan. Elise Marra has just released an original album of Alternative music, and new talents with sounds all their own are stepping up to the mic every day, making Ms.Houston's Alt-Country album a welcome and refreshing way to usher country sounds into the the live music scene of New York City (Houston's preferred Manhattan club to play out, of late, has been downtown's Rockwood Music Hall). In spite of the heavy lifting required to write lyrics, compose melodies, sing vocals and play instruments on one's self-produced album, Houston emerges a winner, with a CD replete with captivating stories and melodic lines that will often surprise listeners who might think they know where the tune is going but who will find themselves mistaken.

I Was Told There Would Be Pie doesn't sugar coat its country roots. Right out of the gate speakers and earphones flood with twangy guitars and honky-tonk percussion on the earthy, accessible torch song "Finally Stopped Dreaming Of You," conjuring up images of Patsy Cline and The Little Willies, with lyrics grounded in poetry and imagery, qualities that, as the album progresses, reveal themselves to be bountiful in the Houston vernacular. Like verses studied in school rooms, these simple sentences structured around musical bars tell tales of multiple layers, filling the mind with wonder regarding possible meanings behind (some of) the songs - a gift Ms. Houston applies particularly well to the infectiously tuneful "No One Here But Us Bones." One by one, the singer-songwriter uses one of the most uniquely beautiful, resolutely emotional voices to lavish upon the listener one act plays of delicious despair ("Is It Raining"), tender sorrow ("Wouldn't That Be Sweet") and amusing distaste ("Girls Like You"). Here is a songwriter so intent on making an album devoid of repetitiveness that one suspects Ms. Houston spent at least a year writing songs before even entering the recording studio, where Mitch Rackin gave her a CD so well mixed and mastered that not one single word is lost behind the adroit playing of instruments. Houston's time at the drawing board was time well spent because the journey taken from points A to B on the album feels like a Kerouacian road trip across the Southern states, collecting colorful pictures of music along the way.

Recent years have seen Jen Houston on the internet, achieving fame and notoriety for her musical political parodies for NOW THIS lampooning the former President of the United States. With a new administration in place and the news stations focused on actual news, there are hopes that the post-covid world might find the creator of the rock-flavored "One Kiss At a Time" or the romantically vulnerable "Let It Begin" back in the studio or, better yet, back in the clubs, making sure that the lovers of small venue musical entertainment have a broader choice of music than was available to them when Jen Houston first stepped onto the cabaret stage a few short years ago, to sing some Andrews Sisters. There will never be a time when the Great American Songbook and Broadway are not savored in the clubs, but there is no denying that audiences have embraced more modern styles of music there, as well. The era of country cabaret is here, and the White Hat is on the head of Jen Houston.

Jen Houston I Was Told There Would Be Pie is a 2015 release on the Jen Houston label. It is available on apple music, iTunes, Spotify, amazon, and through Jen Houston Music on Facebook.


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