Celebrating the Diverse Musical Career of Jen Ambrose
Jen Ambrose has been a part of the Southern Oregon music scene for at least 20 years now. She studied flute, oboe, and piano in her early years. Then, she picked up the guitar and is now known for six and twelve string stylings ranging from intricate picking to fast driving rhythms. She plays rock, blues, jazz, Americana, pop, and the list goes on. Her presence in a variety of performing ensembles over the years is remarkable and she doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.
Ambrose has opened for a number of well-known artists including Chris Isaak, Michael Franti, and 60’s folk rock legend Donovan. In recent years, this singer/songwriter has been described as “a little Torch and a lot of Soul,” a spot-on assessment. To show the diverse nature of her accomplishments, she has even performed as June Carter Cash and Loretta Lynn alongside an accomplished Johnny Cash cover artist.
After perusing some of her choice cuts from past albums, I wanted to highlight a few of the standout tracks and attempt to describe the way she expertly creates a mood and sometimes seems to get lost in the music itself, bending notes and then letting them hang there for a while.
The title track of her first self-produced CD Nectar of Your Dreams is an illustration of this. Not only does she establish the exotic mood that almost sounds like it’s imported from Bangladesh, she draws out certain notes which helps give the sound a more meditative or spiritual element. One of my favorite moments in this song is her earnest, punctuated “Oh, oh!” during one of the most mystical instrumental segments.
“Damian Nightstar,” a single off of the Nectar of Your Dreams album, has sultry, blues-like qualities and relies heavily on harmonica to express lustful intrigue whereas “Sweet Love” has a “romance is in the air” feeling perfect for Valentine’s Day. It’s actually the heavily present back-up vocals that really bring out this “puppy love” emotional quality for me.
“Rise Up Together” – An interestingly sparse or minimalist track with just percussion and Jen’s vocals. This song is a “power to the people” kind of anthem that is about taking a stand against apathy and being empowered to let your voice be heard.
“Falling Rain” – This is the ultimate Torch singer in a nightclub tune. It is sorrowful yet beautiful at the same time and the trumpet really has a co-starring role here, providing a memorable intro to the song as well as full accompaniment throughout.
“Stormy Waters” – This is one that I found the music video for on Jen’s website (jenambrose.org). It is another sexy, sultry number and performed in a beautiful outdoor venue with The Polyphonic Symphony. About midway through, Ambrose pulls out a giant flute and does an amazing, fluttering solo. Solos that follow include trumpet, saxophone, and a moaning electric guitar. It is really fun to watch the vocal improv in this live performance and the full band’s escalation as a grand finale.
“Kettle’s Come to Boil” – Bonnie Raitt comes to mind with this cute number from Ambrose’s latest CD, Tidal Wave. In sequential phrasing, this one is directed first at sister, then brother, daddy, and finally, mama. Ambrose changes her vocal quality for each family member, sometimes howling, whispering, screeching, or simply singing depending on whom she’s addressing. She does scat singing at the end.
Other tracks from Tidal Wave include “Road of Life” with its smooth call-and-response between mandolin and Jen’s vocals, “Pick Your Love Up Off the Ground” with its minimal rattle of the egg shaker percussion one can barely hear (until the end), “Break of the Day” where Ambrose breaks up the word “day” into chopped staccato pieces for a staggered effect at one point, and “Jealous,” in which Ambrose’s versatile vocal dynamics are especially heard. She does everything from sigh and whisper to escalating in volume at the end only to simmer back down to a purr.
A lot of the concert videos on Ambrose’s website are from performances at outdoor venues, which makes me all the more look forward to this summer, when I hope I will get to enjoy sultry blues rock with Ambrose at the helm while drinking a glass of wine on a picnic blanket somewhere.
Jen Ambrose will perform with Saucy at Jefferson’s Road House in Yreka, CA at 6 pm Feb. 20.