The Dear Janes

No Skin (Geffen)

Sweet and sour. Yin and yang. Mutt and Jeff. Cheese and onions. All of the world's great pairs evoke a sense of wholeness in disparity, revel in the synthesis of that which is and that which isn't, admire the beauty in opposites not only attracted, but bonded.

Add Ginny and Barbara to that list of great pairs. Why? Madames Clee and Marsh of the Dear Janes get more mileage out of unlikely synthesis than any other band plying its wares these days: Ginny Clee is British, Barbara Marsh American; Ginny is small, fluffy and roundish, Barbara tall, austere and angular; Clee sings in a sweet soprano, Marsh in a strong alto; the Dear Janes' music is brilliantly engaging and uplifting, the Dear Janes' lyrics are devastatingly down-to-earth and unrelentingly dark; it shouldn't work, it does spectacularly.

While the Dear Janes are both guitar-toting singers, No Skin is no trans-Atlantic Indigo Girls record. The album's arrangements are unexpectedly rich, with sheets of electric and acoustic guitar rustling over instrumental beds constructed from such unlikely instruments as bassoon, mandola, accordion and hand percussion. Of course, all of those elements retreat to their proper support positions as soon as Madames Marsh and Clee open their mouths: these singers don't merely soar on their musical thermals, they break free of gravity's constraints altogether and transport you to some ethereal high place beyond the point where oxygen deprivation has choked most mortal voices.

It's that high sense of transcendence that makes No Skin's textual content digestible: song titles such as "Dead Women's Jewels", "10mg Girl", "Orphan", "Dangerous Dangerous Nuts", "Angry" and "Get Off the Cross" make it plain that these Janes aren't the sunshine and lollipop kinds. But so what. Life is, after all, a nasty, brutish affair--and embracing, uplifting and thereby transcending its latent rottenness seems as good a vehicle as any for dealing with its inevitable shortness.

Copyright 1995-1999: J. Eric Smith.