‘From beginning to end, it’s Velvet & Stone at their folk-driven best.’
Sometimes when a band have been away for a bit, they return with a track that makes you realise why you loved them the first time around. And that is exactly what ‘Jeni’ is. Taking a couple of years away from releasing new music, Velvet & Stone have just delivered us what is without doubt their best track to date. Fronted by Lara Snowdon (guitar and vocals) and Kathryn Tremlett (violin), ‘Jeni’, sees the folk duo joined by Simon Thresh (Harmonic vocals) and producer Josiah Manning (guitar, piano, banjuitar and drums). If you missed them the first time around, or even if you didn’t, this is a must listen track.
Balancing softness with drama, the opening moments of ‘Jeni’ are as enticing as can be. Assertive drums pound, deep piano rings, guitar strums soothe, and sustained violin stirs something inside you. Only seconds in you know that you are in for a treat, and a folky Americana one at that. There is without doubt a kind of cinematic tendency that through its subtlety is utterly beautiful, but with the appearance of Lara’s vocals that this becomes even more the case.
Confidence-filled and brimming with clarity, lead phrase ‘Jeni, he said, you’re a heartbreaker, I trust you from here to nowhere’ wonderfully sets out a narrative that will talk of journeys in the most metaphorical of ways. Early references to travel through ‘I’ve boarded that train and I wanna get off’ may initially seem more blatant, but in context, they allude to a different story: One of struggles in love. However, rather than this being an indulgent ballad, there is energy provided through the sympathetic accompaniment and inferred freedom through Lara’s blend of precision and semi-casual vocal delivery.
Taking this through into the chorus elements of the track, rather than just heading straight in, a sequence of pre-chorus/chorus/post-chorus makes itself known. Sometimes when artists do this it can be seen as not having full purpose, a way of extending tracks if you will. But not here. Introducing the vocal hook ‘What do you know about love/us?’, additional meaning is brought to those earlier lines. Furthermore, this moment of sparseness – where picked banjuitar and grounded violin combine with soft drums and even softer tambourine – means that when the full chorus arrives, there is a lift in sound that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
It has to be said that the effectiveness of this change in atmosphere isn’t just down to the quality of musicianship, but that of the production too. Sure it’s an absolute triumph compositionally, but to bring out the individual elements in a way that ensures we hear them to their fullest takes incredible skill. The fact is though that because of this we can choose to bathe in the beauty of the overall sound, or tune into extra special moments. Moments such as how the vocal phrase of ‘We don’t run along the tracks’ is followed up by train-esque violin bows.
Building on the atmosphere just generated, the sense of intent effortlessly pours out of the earthy, folk-centric violin motifs and contained, yet foot-stomping drum patterns that pull us toward the second verse. Here though, unlike the first verse, the instrumental content becomes more percussively driven with picked strings embellishing rather than leading. Equally, the seamless changes of vocal range and affectionate voice cracks add authenticity to both genre and story telling. Yes the cinematic edge was there at the start, but as things continue to progress you can’t help but picture dust-filled shots of the American railroads spoken of within the lyricism.
Proving that waiting two years for new music has been more than worth it, as we head toward the latter parts of the track the inferred energy truly intensifies. Initially signalled – albeit subtly – via an alternation of instrumental passages and a restating of the chorus’ closing phrase ‘What do you know about that?’, you get a sense that rather than this being the conclusion, it’s the beginning of a final surge. And indeed it is.
In a true coming together of characterisation, narration, influences, and musicality, the unanswered lyrical question is cast aside to make way for the most invigorating of endings. One that, with its vivacious folk violin, accelerating accented rhythms, and breakneck-speed banjuitar sees Velvet & Stone give it everything they’ve got.
‘Jeni’ by Velvet & Stone is available in all the usual places now
Artwork Credit: Abbie Barton