First Impressions: Burn So Bright by Jane Willow

(Album art by Dave Keegan)

Although not slated for release until Friday the 19th, I’ve had Dutch-Irish singer-songwriter Jane Willow’s full-length debut, Burn So Bright, in heavy rotation for the past month due to having backed it over at fundit.ie; those of us who contributed received an early download and, in my case, a CD (though said CD took weeks to skip the pond fantastic). She possesses a lovely lilt that drifts through the ether and into the soul. On the slower tunes, especially, she sounds like she’s standing behind you and singing into your ear. Vocal talent alone doesn’t mean much without the songs to back them up, however, and therein is the reason I’ve turned to the album again and again (and again). It’s almost as if Mary Black recorded an album of Glen Hansard compositions.

It opens at full gait with “This Free Life,” which—like many of the tracks—features a string quartet. Lyrically, the song tackles the issue of affordable housing, which is as scarce in Dublin as it is in California. “Hands on My Hips,” which features Steve Wickham of the Waterboys on fiddle, finds her escaping the madness of the world by swaying to the music with the one she loves.

Jane posted to Instagram that she considers the song that follows, “Let There Be Light,” the best song she’s yet written—understandable, as it’s a gorgeous tune about eschewing darker inclinations and embracing hope. It’s balm for the soul. “With all this longing I’m finding it so hard to know/What really matters and what’s worth letting go/But I have this music and I want the world to know/Let there be light, light for the day…” 

It’s as if her vocals bypass the ears for the heart, a sense that continues with “Unfailingly” and “Linger On.” The former finds her thrush in love (“Leave your boat here at the shore/Throw your anchor down to me/As the moon changes the tide/It is you that changes me”), while the latter delves into the first flush of infatuation. The uptempo “The Fool,” which made it to the finals of Radio Nova Discovered in 2019, provides ample balance for the ballads; she ruminates about a relationship in which she gave more than she received. “Up Here,” on the other hands, finds her seeking escape in memories.

“In Your House” is an aching duet with one-time The Voice of Ireland winner Pat Byrne that sounds like it could be a long lost outtake from the Once soundtrack. “Give It Time,” which she wrote for a friend with bipolar disorder, is a reminder that the darkness eventually succumbs to light: “Give it time, slowly things will realign/There is no telling how or when/But you will be all right/You will be all right.”

The album proper comes to a close with the title track, another lament of a love that’s run its course; again, her vocals bypass the ears for the heart. The Bandcamp bonus track, “Morning Moon,” is another sublime tune.

In addition to Mary Black and Glen Hansard, I hear echoes of Van Morrison and, after my wife mentioned it, Rumer, as well. They share similar vocal hues. Most of all, however, I hear Jane’s heart beating, beating, beating, throughout. Burn So Bright is, simply put, a tremendous album; it’s one of my favorites of the year. Give it a go.

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