Canadian, Brooklyn-based singer/pianist/songwriter Jodi Shaw has garnered plenty of praise from North American and European audiences. Her third album, In Waterland finds her reestablishing herself after the birth of twins. Themes of water, swimming, boats, and nautical dangers tie the album together intricately. “Swim” establishes the metaphor with clean vocals, slick harmonies, and a certain musical lightness that belies the deep introspection – speaking of swimming endlessly, circling sharks, and succumbing. The third verse twists it up: “you smile and you wave / you say ‘I’ll be back to rescue you someday.’”
The titular metaphor of “The Witch” chronicles youthful physical beauty turning to early-middle-aged indifference and ugliness, perhaps reminiscent in a way of the Ben Folds Five classic “Video.” It’s a striking juxtaposition, musically and lyrically. “This Balloon / Ode to Zvezdochka” – written about the last Russian space dog – is another standout, loose and particularly carnivalesque until its soaring finale.
In press materials, Shaw is mentioned as an heir to the Tori Amos/Natalie Merchant/Fiona Apple female-piano-songstress throne, and if there’s one comment I have with this album, it’s that it really sounds rather dated from the ‘90s, with a studio gloss and cleanliness that keeps it from having as much impact as it could have. I know rawness is en vogue at the moment, but I think it goes beyond that; it’s almost like Shaw is being nice, or holding back something from her performances. This is actually something that sets her apart from the above women, all of whom are totally convincing performers live and on record. But that’s only part of Shaw’s package. Alternately wounded, proud, cutting, sassy, and rueful, her observant and accessible songwriting shines through to show its appeal.