Gina Clowes has called upon some of the best musicians in the bluegrass genre for her first solo album, True Colors, and they contribute a tremendous amount to the final product. What makes this twelve song collection really go, however, isn’t the musicianship alone. Clowes has debuted with eleven impressive originals and even the album’s lone cover crackles with the force of Clowes’ unique personality. She defers to tradition on a number of the album’s songs but much of True Colors finds Clowes using common bluegrass tropes and instrumentation as a lively vehicle for self-expression.
The autobiographical nature of the songwriting doesn’t mean that the lyrics are mere reportage and lack imagination. Instead, they are rife with suggestive and specific imagery that Clowes’ phrasing jolts to vivid life despite the fact that she hasn’t made her name as a singer. Gina Clowes’ tenure as banjo player for Chris Jones and the Night Drivers has primed her for this turn in her musical journey and the lessons she’s gleaned from her time playing with such great singers and musicians obviously enriches this release.
“Puppet Show” has a surprising amount of personal bite for an album opener and sets an assertive standard that will be repeated musically, but not lyrically. There are two banjos working here and making the track lively – one is in the more typical chromatic style and played by Gina Clowes while the second claw hammer banjo running through the track comes to us courtesy of Clowes’ brother Victor Furtado.
“Saylor’s Creek” sees an assortment of musical approaches seamlessly come together – mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin all compete for a piece of the sonic pie without ever seeming too cluttered. It’s the first of a handful of instrumentals on this album and affords Clowes and her collaborators a chance to show off their talents. “True Colors” is a distinctly upbeat title track and a very individualistic love song that clearly oozes sincerity and stands as a prime example of what modern bluegrass is capable of.
Gina Clowes Lets Us In To See Her True Colors
“For Better or For Worse” introduces the first guest vocalist on the album, Heather Berry Mabe, and she does an outstanding job of making her voice conform to listener’s expectations based on the five preceding tunes. The lyric is remarkably insightful and explores weighty themes without ever failing to entertain its intended audience. Another instrumental, “The Wayward Kite”, has a light sprinkling of classical influences, but they never undercut the roots forever tethering Clowes’ tunes to earth. “Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak” brings more guest vocalists into play and the male singers on this piece, despite obvious differences, maintain the same consistency that’s defined the album to this point.
A final instrumental, “La Puerta Del Diablo”, whips up a memorable frenzy and has the sort of feel, despite its low-fi power, that prompts people to start dancing. The same optimism finds its way into the final track, “Beautiful Land”, and we hear Clowes delivering this track with the same grace and sophistication we’ve come to expect by this point. True Colors makes no secret of where its musical sympathies lie and, for Gina Clowes, likely represents the first in what will hopefully be a string of successful solo outings.
True Colors by Gina Clowes is available on AMAZON: