Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we set our gaze on Jean Synodinos, an Austin-based singer songwriter that has recently released a rather compelling studio effort. ‘Love & Blood’ is her latest release - an eight track offering of introspectively haunting tunes delving into the end of a relationship. The songs, however, took an entirely new meaning when Synodinos’ longtime collaborator and ex-husband, Charles Rieser, passed away last year to alcoholism. Let’s dig into the tunes.
‘Love & Blood’ is a pretty succinct experience, clocking in just over a half hour. It has a very somber aura to it, something personified eloquently on the opening song, ‘End of the World.’ Prior to the release of this album, Synodinos has enjoyed some modest success with a few critically acclaimed records, some longer tours, and some impressive residencies. The band backing her on ‘Love & Blood’ holds the experience together in a fashion that puts much of the independent community to shame. These trumpeters, cellists, percussionists, and much more produce a wall of sound that ‘End of the World’ embarks on wholeheartedly. That opener feels like something suitable for the opening credits of a James Bond film; it’s almost cinematic in nature.
‘This Morning’ is far softer and more sublime, rather entering some soft coffee shop atmospheres rather than the more ambitious pursuits of its predecessor. With that said, the song is remarkably personable. Synodinos’ delivery and vocal personality on these tracks makes them feel so genuine. Her storytelling, however, is unparalleled on ‘Picture.’ Synodinos is a strong wordsmith, one that can harness a poignant story. ‘Picture’ chronologs the fall of a marriage over a very long time. The relationship deteriorates slowly and painfully.
It’s very much worth touching on where Synodinos falls within a classifiable spectrum of music. I’d argue she’s primarily a “singer songwriter,” a genre that seems to encompass folksy artists that play acoustically with some pop sensibility. Simply defining Synodinos within that realm wouldn’t do her due credit, though, since she delves deeply into some soul and jazz musings as well. One such excursion, ‘Mercy Mercy,’ is a powerhouse of contemporary jazz riddled with soul influence. The song would be well-suited to a dimly lit, smoke filled bar on an off night with half a dozen patrons wallowing in self despair. That’s a good thing - She harnesses that bluesy, soulful jazz crooner style with tact and personality.
‘The Morning Does Not Suit Your Eyes’ has a hint of Americana to it, harkening back to classic Kristofferson or Nelson lyrical and compositional styles. The sparse backing allows Synodinos to take the forefront of the production, embracing minimalism accented by receding instrumental pieces and a soft percussion session. I particularly enjoyed the production of ‘Love & Blood,’ especially since I dug into it several times through on professional studio monitors. Producer and engineer Daniel Barrett did a stunning job handling this record, as did Mark Hallman, the mastering engineer.
‘Forgive Him His Sons’ seems to delve directly into the struggles that Synodinos and her former husband dealt with in regard to his substance abuse toward the end of his life. The promotion of this record is very heavily tied to education and resources for substance abuse. A portion of donation proceeds go toward a foundation that works to provide low-cost mental health and substance abuse aid, and Synodinos’ website is full of personal pieces about the subject. I think that outreach is the focal point of this entire project. It even sounds like Synodinos was able to remedy the ails of a failing marriage through these tunes, perhaps even coming to grips with her husband’s demons through them as well.
‘Bark Right at the Moon’ sounds like something right out of the Grand Ole Opry. Swooning steel guitars and country-like plodding makes it a very easy listening tune. It’s easy to digest and sounds like something straight out of the glory days of Americana and country music. The genre suits Synodinos well. I’d even argue it suits her better than the acoustic songwriter style she exhibits in tunes like ‘End of the World.’
‘Real Renegade’ feels like a remarkably fitting ending piece for ‘Love & Blood.’ The song toys with all of Synodinos’ styles - Americana, jazz, singer songwriter... they’re all there. The song also feels resolute, as if she has found newfound purpose in life following painful tracks like ‘Forgive Him His Sins.’ Considering ‘Love & Blood’ looks back on Rieser quite lovingly, the final track seems to seal the emotional envelope in a beautiful way.
If I was to even venture to compare ‘Love & Blood’ to a notable work, I’d say it’s Synodinos’ ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ It’s an introspective effort that jumps through several musical styles, tying each piece together with the ruins of a failed relationship. Much like Dylan, Synodinos doesn’t approach this in an aggressive fashion like most. It’s a love letter to the times that were and an acknowledgement of what went wrong. It doesn’t point fingers, nor does it feel accusatory. Rieser supposedly heard these songs before he passed - I imagine they may have been hard for him to hear, but hopefully it gave them both positive closure before the end. Check out the record; it’s a beautiful one.