Jennifer Kimball


Part Joy, Part Melancholy, All Wonderful

Having completed four uninterrupted circuits of Jennifer Kimball's sophomore solo effort, Oh Hear Us, in an attempt to clarify my feelings about this new collection I thought to revisit her 1998 debut, Veering From The Wave. While seeking confirmation that that collection had been a "wonderfully melodic and joyful Pop/Folk concoction" - it was (and remains so) - I was also searching for hints of lyrical melancholy. They were present, albeit only as an ethereal peripheral touch, on that album's more lovelorn numbers. Feelings of melancholy certainly pervade Oh Hear Us, and for good reason, as I shall explain. Like Veering, this new collection includes one cover song, while the lyric to two of the decade of remaining cuts are collaborations with, respectively in order of appearance, Catie Curtis and Merrie Amsterburg. As for the Oh Hear Us support musicians, the only "carry over" from Kimball's debut album sessions is guitar whiz Duke Levine, more of whom later.

"Can't Climb Up," the upbeat opening cut, is introduced by a fluid electric guitar lick from Levine, while subjectively Kimball's words reflect on a character, seemingly frozen in time and place, who, according to the narrator, "can't climb up" and "can't crawl down." In closing, the narrator draws the conclusion "You lost your joy...You've got to find your joy." Although it is personal opinion, Kimball possesses one of Folk/Pop's "to die for" singing voices and it rises and falls with consummate ease while traversing the Curtis/Kimball lyric of "Don't Take Your Love Away." As the song opens we learn that flood water has recently inundated the female narrator's home, and with her partner "gone travelling a couple of days," in the process of cleaning up she finds a box of old love letters, written by his former lover. Well aware that she's entering forbidden territory - "what I knew I shouldn't read" - in due course the narrator reveals her own Achilles heel "I'm reading this too close to home, I've got some letters and a box of my own, Saved here for all these years." Although love is won and lost (and won again) as we humans traverse this life, we retain a penchant for secrets known only to one's own heart.

In launching the hymn-like "Eternal Father," Kimball employs William Whiting's opening verse to "Eternal Father, Strong To Save" aka "The Navy Hymn." The album title is actually drawn from the bridge in this lyric. As for the second and final verse, they are entirely Jennifer's creation and respectively evoke the passage of time and the passing of generations of mankind, while in the closing verse Kimball reflects on the possibility of meeting loved ones once again "on the other side."

"Is He Or Isn't He" focuses on personal identity and how we approach uncovering the real truth - as in "is he or isn't he who he says he is?" At seconds short of two minutes and appearing to pose questions regarding ones faith, "The Wheel," which features lyrics that mention sorrow, joy, beating hearts, and an unreliable heaven, is the shortest cut on Oh Hear Us. Like Patty Griffin's atmospheric "Long Ride Home" from her 2002 album 1000 Kisses, Kimball's "Last Ride Home" also embraces the subject of death. While, post the burial, Griffin surveyed the journey home for the deceased as well as the living, Jennifer, as narrator, contemplates the eternal from the viewpoint of the deceased being asleep and points out aspects of the natural world, which the deceased loved, as the funeral cortege proceeds on its way. Jennifer's mother passed away during June 2002 (a victim of lung cancer) and her words take the form of a daughter's thoughtful eulogy to a much-loved parent, while, featuring the tenor sax of Russ Gershon and trombone of Joel Yennior, the supporting melody evokes a New Orleans-style funeral march.

With an underlying theme of "love separated by four thousand miles of ocean," the story in the Kimball/Amsterburg lyric "When I Was Lost" becomes clear in the second verse - "Santa Maria, it's me, Paulo, Calling from half a world away. Cash in the mail, how's my little Lucy? I miss you more than I can say." Featuring backing vocals by Rounder/Zoe recording artist Amsterburg, there's subsequent mention of the narrator singing the songs of Brazilian singer-songwriter Joao Bosco, while walking on South Beach on a Sunday morning. "East Of Indiana" is a melancholic number where farmland images of fields full of grain that reach to the horizon and more, are married to reflections on lost love. Immediately following, images of rural life - once again, read farmland - as well as life in an urban environment - read New York City - feature in "Lightning Bugs."

The penultimate cut and final Kimball composition, "Ballad # 61," replete with a number of seafaring references in the lyric, has been around for a while. Backed by Barbara Kessler's band, Kimball performed the song during her summer 2001 appearance at the Kerrville Folk Festival. The closing track "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" with lyrics by Ted Koehler/Billy Moll and music by Harry Barris dates from the 1930s. Harry Barris was a singer, songwriter, and sometime actor, who, early in his career, became a member of the Rhythm Boys, a trio that featured Bing Crosby and Al Rinker. Circa 1927 Bing and Al were vocalists in Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, when they teamed with Harry. Barris had already written "Mississippi Mud," and the Boys quickly turned it into a hit. By the early nineteen-thirties Crosby was a solo artist, but one who retained connections to a known hit songwriter. Bing cut "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" in 1931, and it was later covered by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin...and in the new millennium Jennifer Kimball adds her interpretation.

This collection was produced by Duke Levine, guitarist in Kimball's early career band The Story and, in a way, this recording squares the circle since Kimball's 1998 solo debut, Veering From The Wave, was produced by Ben Wittman, the band's drummer. Recorded during late 2003, while Jennifer was still carrying her son, Waylon, Oh Hear Us is a real life marriage, part joy, part melancholy, underpinned by good old-fashioned hook-laden melodies. 2006 has begun well.

Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax


Folkwax Bio and Doscography for Jennifer Kimball

A True Voice

Jennifer Kimball was born on August 14, circa 1964, and raised initially in New York. Kimball began taking music lessons at the age of three. She began singing in church choirs at the age of twelve, and also organized and led madrigal groups, and in the process developed prowess as a harmony singer. As a youngster she even dabbled with writing songs.
In the early 1980s, while attending Amherst College in Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, Jennifer teamed with Jonatha Brooke, a fellow English major, and they performed as Jennifer and Jonatha Their first off-campus gig was at the Iron Horse in Northampton. Following graduation, Brooke joined a dance company while Kimball went to work as a visual artist for a Boston publishing house, and they also continued to perform on an occasional basis. In 1989 the duo recorded a demo titled Over Oceans. Signing with the Folk music imprint Green Linnet, in 1991 their debut album, Grace In Gravity, was released, and included Brooke's song "Over Oceans." Having attracted the attention of the major label Elektra, they reissued the duo's debut album during 1992 and their sophomore effort, The Angel in The House, appeared the following year. Brooke was however penning all the songs and it soon became obvious that a solo career would eventually beckon for her.

The Story, Jennifer and Jonatha's road band, appeared on stages with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, while on the festival front they headlined at the Newport Folk Festival. Their road band consisted of keyboard player Alain Mallet (Jonatha's husband), guitarist Duke Levine, and drummer Ben Wittman. Kimball left The Story in 1994 and Brooke went on to record Plumb, which was credited to Jonatha Brooke and The Story, although Kimball took no part in the sessions.

Invited to play keyboards and sing back-up vocals in Patty Larkin's road band during 1995, Kimball became reacquainted with the guitar through playing a tiple, and she began penning songs again during this period. The following year, in a similar capacity, she toured with Carrie Newcomer and her band. Kimball made her recording debut as a solo singer-songwriter with "An Ordinary Soldier>, on the 2-CD Eastern Front compilation This Is Boston, Not Austin, Vol. 2 [1997]. Having gone on to perform some of her original tunes at a showcase during the 1997 Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto, later that year Jennifer released a six-song CD titled Demo, which included "The Back Of Your Hand," a cut that never made it to her debut solo album. Signed by Will Ackerman's Imaginary Road Records (and distributed by Polygram), Kimball's debut, Veering From The Wave, went on to sell 15,000 copies, and was a melodic Folk/Pop concoction in which Kimball married the sounds of early American Folk songs to Folk-Rock, along the way adding Beatles-styled hooks and even a touch of Jazz. On her debut album, tales about the loss of love and its rediscovery sit alongside a tribute to her grandfather - "Gagna's Song." The collection was produced by Ben Wittman. Circa 1998/99 Jennifer performed at two Lilith Fair gigs, one in Milwaukee and the other in Minneapolis. During 1999 Kimball picked up a Kahlua Boston Music Award, and was nominated for two other Boston Music Awards, as well as a Gavin Triple 'A,' Artist and Album of the Year award. During the latter half of the closing decade of the 20th century, in addition to pursuing her solo career, Kimball became a "much in demand" backing vocalist on recording sessions.

Toward the close of the last century, Kimball was invited to join the acoustic supergroup Wayfaring Strangers, led by fiddle player and Berkley College of Music lecturer/Chair of String Department, Matt Glaser. The lineup also featured Tony Trischka on banjo, John McGann on guitar, Andy Statman on mandolin and clarinet, Bruce Barth on piano, Kim Whitney on bass, and Lucy Kaplansky on vocals. The band only played a handful of gigs annually and their debut recording, Shifting Sands Of Time was release in 2001 by Rounder Records. By the time the band released This Train in 2003, Kaplansky and Kimball had departed to be replaced by Ruth Unger (The Mammals), Aoife O'Donovan, and Berklee alumni Tracy Bonham.

At the turn of this century Jennifer married fellow performer Ryan "Ry" Cavanaugh, and in early 2004 their son Waylon was born. Cavanaugh and Kimball worked together in the quartet Maybe Baby with drummer Billy Beard and keyboard player Tom West. In early 2003 the band released a thirteen-cut, Billy Conway-produced album entitled What Matters, featuring five Kimball originals and one co-write. Six songs were credited to Cavanaugh, another to George Cavanaugh, and Ry was also involved with the aforementioned co-write. Kimball and Cavanaugh also worked in the Boston-based loose musical aggregation Family Affair, and Jennifer appeared in Faith Soloway's comic theatrical musical Miss Folk America [2000] alongside Mary Gauthier, Kris Delmhorst, Catie Curtis, and others. Kimball later took the role of the Virgin Mary in Soloway's Jesus Has Two Mommies [2001]. Jennifer lost her mother to lung cancer in 2002.

In late 2003, while still pregnant, Kimball, assisted by long-time collaborator Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Story) in the role of producer, she recorded Oh Hear Us. The session players included bassist Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Jennifer Jackson), drummers Jay Bellerose (Joe Henry, Paula Cole) and Shawn Pelton (Shawn Colvin, Saturday Night Live Band), while Kevin Barry (Paula Cole, Mary Chapin Carpenter) played lap steel. Kris Delmhorst and Merrie Amsterburg provided backing vocals. On the recording, Kimball plays baritone ukulele, acoustic guitar, piano, and Wurlitzer. Oh Hear Us was released on the Epoisse label in late January 2006. The previous year Jennifer released an eight-song live recording titled Assorted Macaroons.

As far as the Boston, New York, and New England Folk scene is concerned, it would easier to list the artists with whom Kimball has not sung backing vocals. There are two women in music business Stateside who possess the name, Jennifer Kimball. One is a Nashville-based composer of hit tunes, the other has been the subject of this short biography.


With The Story: Gravity In Grace [1991]; The Angel In The House [1993];
With The Wayfaring Strangers: Shifting Sands Of Time [2001];
With Maybe Baby: What Matters [2003];
Solo: Demo 6-track self-release [1997]; Veering From The Wave [1998]; Assorted Macaroons [2005]; Oh Hear Us [2006].

Arthur Wood