In Janie Barnett’s newest album, You See This River, she evokes her hybrid style that favors roots-music instruments, the whimsical storytelling of her favorite author John Steinbeck, and the social passions of one who grew up in the backyard of Washington D.C., melding various chapters of her life into the Americana album she always intended to make. Featuring Blue Room, a collaborative group of musicians at the top of the Brooklyn music scene, who flesh out the body of the songs with a luscious, cinematic sound, the album is a musically complex and emotionally wrought platform for Barnett’s genuine artistic voice to break out through.
You See This River is the deeply personal 13-song result of Barnett’s life-long search for her artistic authenticity. Inspired by some of the most intensely emotional moments of her life - struggling to just stay afloat while balancing raising her daughter and her growing music career, the heartbreaking but liberating decision to end an over 15-year-long marriage, and finding the people who will stand by you for life, romantically or otherwise – the album revolves around a lyrical theme of the human impulse for longing. In her own words:
“The stories here are of the primal instinct for nostalgia, the beautiful and terrible journey up and down the river, the persistence, romanticism, and pig-headedness of humans.”
This gentle storytelling is present throughout the album; “Better Times Are Coming” reflects the weariness as well as the continuing willingness of our citizenry to resist in hard times, “Wrap Me Up” articulates the human need for longing in a romantic tale of love found late in life, and “How You Are” is a compassionate letter from a mother to a daughter. Of the title track, Barnett says:
“The title track captures this journey on the river – sometimes deliberate, sometimes meandering, indeed sometimes treacherous, with no apparent way to jump the current, all the while watched by those who choose to stand on the sidelines. All we might know for sure is that we’ll float another day.”
Sonically, the record echoes its title, with beautifully flowing melodies fluidly layered with Barnett’s gently evocative vocals, suggesting the soundtrack of one’s favorite indie film. The masterfully crafted songs have an approachability and addictive staying power, with Lydia Hutchinson of Songwriter Magazine saying “I have been playing [You See This River] in my kitchen now all day today…It’s so consistently good, one of those rare recordings you can listen to all the way through, every track.”