Jenny Scheinman is a versatile American violinist and songwriter who debuted as a jazz artist in the year 2000 with "Live at Yoshi's." Since then, she's proved a comfortable player in a variety of styles and genres, collaborating with Bill Frisell, Ani DiFranco, Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams to name a few.
"The Littlest Prisoner" is Scheinman's eighth album under her own name but only the second to feature her as a vocalist.
The album's first success came before a single note was played. To accompany her on the record, Scheinman hired guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade, two jazz giants that have spent their careers blurring genre lines with their own groups as well as through high-profile collaborations. This trio is just as comfortable playing jazz standards as it is Americana and folk tunes. While "The Littlest Prisoner" is comprised of the latter, the spirit of jazz improvisation is present in the feeling of freedom and spontaneity heard in the musician's playing.
Shown is violist-singer-songwriter Jenny Scheinman. Her latest album is “The Littlest Prisoner.”
Excepting a few guests appearances from bass player Tony Garnier and guitarist Bruce Cockburn, the trio experience comprises the bulk of the record. It's a very interesting aesthetic, one that values silence as much as it does sound, unafraid of venturing out with no more than vocals, drums and Frisell's sparse guitar. This is especially apparent on the closing track, "Sacrifice," where Frisell and Blade support the melody gently and playfully, never overshadowing or asserting dominance.
Scheinman's vocals shine throughout the record, voicing a variety of characters in dark and twisted love stories. From an interview in "American Songwriter," she said: "There are many love songs but the perspectives are unusual: 'The Littlest Prisoner' is from a pregnant inmate to her unborn child, 'Sacrifice' likens the journey of marriage to the underground railway, 'My Old Man' is a modern reconfiguring of an old-time murder ballad, (and) 'Brother' is about brotherly versus romantic love."
"My Old Man" is one that stands out from the rest as being reminiscent of a dark comedy. Despite its subject matter, you can't help but tap your foot and smile as Scheinman sings "He'll break your little feet" over the bouncy, driving drumbeat.
Filling out the tracklist are three little instrumental country dances, two as duets and one as a trio. "Bent Nail" is the best of the three, a duet between Scheinman's gritty violin and the funky drumming of Blade that will leave you wishing it was longer than a minute and a half.
While "The Littlest Prisoner" has masterful playing over some well-written tunes, you'll find it lacking in something you can't quite put your finger on. It may be a little too controlled and polished, devoid of the risks that these players take night after night in jazz clubs. Or maybe the three-day recording schedule didn't allow the songs enough time to develop. Regardless, for fans of folk and Americana, or for fans of these musicians, this is an enjoyable album that's worth checking out.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: "Sacrifice"