Australian roots rocker Jen Cloher was about five years old when Bruce Springsteen sat in his bedroom and recorded "State Trooper," a sparse and haunting song that typified his low key but emotionally powerful Nebraska album. What then would prompt Cloher as a twentysomething to not just cover Springsteen's song, but to embellish it with soundscape electric guitars, slinky vocals and bring the piece to a steamy, psychedelic climax?
Probably an ear for a great song (after all, Steve Earle covered "State Trooper" too), a fearless propensity to take risks with her music, and a determination to steer clear of the sickly sweet cuteness of many of her contemporaries. Add to this a rapidly developing and original songwriting style, a distinctively breathless vocal delivery reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan meets Pieta Brown, and you have the essence of Cloher's debut full length CD Dead Wood Falls.
Sadly (or maybe not), you won't find "State Trooper" on Dead Wood Falls. For that you'll either need to get to a Cloher gig or else hunt down Cloher's four-track EP Permanent Marker.
Recording the album mostly live to tape over about five days with her band The Endless Sea produced the inevitable tensions, but also a great satisfaction. Cloher says, "It was an incredible amount of pressure to put ourselves under. By day four the claustrophobia...had set in so we were kinda glad we didn't have a record deal advance to keep us in there for five weeks!"
Ominous bass rumblings from bassist (Lord) Geoff Dunbar precede the slow burn of the title track. Cloher's sensual, smoky vocal emphasizes the stark questioning of the lyric. "If I could be in your city, if I could be in your town / If I could be plastered to your body / Would I be any better off there?"
Other standout cuts on this uniformly appealing recording include the swaying, bluesy shuffle of "Spring," the unashamedly sexy "Red Room," and the earthy longing of "Rain." Throughout, the instrumentation is sparse yet strong, with Jen Solakis' drumming and Julien Poulson's electric guitars prominent. Spicing up the musical mix are several guest contributions from guitar prodigy Mia Dyson, adding depth and texture on baritone and lap-steel guitars.
Jen Cloher's Dead Wood Falls is indicative of something immensely appealing about the current crop of young Australian women singer/songwriters. Like her pals Dyson and Liz Stringer, they are all writing and performing very good songs now, but share a conviction that their best work is yet to come. May it be so. • Michael Hansen
you can currently hear "State Trooper" at her myspace page