Liz Janes impressed music listeners with her full-bodied and dexterous voice (not to mention her underrated songs) on her full-length 2004 release Poison and Snakes. Featuring a part-smoky, part-doll-like-innocent vocal delivery over a delightfully strange concoction of rock, folk, country, and southern spirituals, Poison and Snakes was an adventurous recording that fit in nicely with the ethos of Janes’ label, Asthmatic Kitty (a label for releasing music from other like-minded off-kilter artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Half-Handed Cloud, Castanets, among others). Mere months after releasing this full-length, Janes reappears with free-jazz collective Create (!) to create a batch of songs with an ambition to stretch herself musically to new and even stranger levels. What results on And Create (!) is a 6 song EP of meandering droning jazz spirituals-influenced music knitted together by Janes’ soulful and husky voice. Janes calls down the fire of the Spirit through Create (!)’s inventive arrangements and her own songs of faith and longing.
“Lonesome Valley”, with its plodding rhythm and picked banjo parts opens up And Create (!). Janes sings in a deep tenor that is augmented by higher, buried vocal parts, immediately showing off her excellent range, while Create (!) offers wind instruments of various timbres to back up the song. Though simple in structure, the song is pretty, as its slow melody repeats over and over. In fact, the song even sounds like it could be a tossed off b-side of Poison and Snakes, which is something that cannot be said of the experimental “All the Pretty Horses”. Featuring a loud drone accompanied by strange atmospheric sounds (all sounding like they are created by various wood instruments, though I’m not 100% sure that is the case), “All the Pretty Horses” eerily engulfs the listener. Within the folds of the drones is Janes’ voice, singing a dark melody in the midst of the dirge-like sounds. “Be My Husband” features light free-form jazz percussion, picked acoustic guitars, and Janes yet again singing in that deep and resigned voice (light years away from her upfront and powerful vocals on her other releases). Yet, this cracking and barely audible voice singing “Be my husband, I’ll be your wife”, has a striking allure to it.
Due to the shady vocals and the haphazard feel of the music, where random percussion accents loose guitar parts, “Be My Husband” gives off the feel that it could fall apart into nothingness at any second, and bestows upon the song a sense of tension and even desperate anxiety. “Jesus Is A Dying Bed-Maker” is a little more put-together as a song, featuring a strong melody, regular (though somewhat fractured) drum parts, and (finally) high-pitched sweet vocals from Janes that fall into that innocent-pretty-girl category. The song is delicate and pretty, and the production beautifully cradles the song with its lightness. “Run, Old Jeremiah / Keep Your Hand On The Plow” veers off, though, back into the more experimental vibe of And Create (!). The 9 minute song starts out as a clapping, hoot and hollering spiritual straight out of the south, with rattling tambourines and enthusiastic call and response chanting by the Create (!) boys. A hard-strummed acoustic guitar heralds the beginning of the “Keep Your Hand On The Plow” portion of the song, and shortly a deviously soulful Janes does her best southern vocal interpretation. The energy is kept up through the song until the bass guitar solo leads to a gradual ending of the clapping and stomping. “Run, Old Jeremiah / Keep Your Hand On The Plow” is a fun song that, in a simple way, demonstrates just how much Liz Janes and Create (!) have assumed their roles as experimental spirituals masters on this EP. Finally, after some percussion noodling, And Create (!) ends off with the lovely “Careless Love”. Janes sings in that precious voice “Love. See what love has done” over subtly intense percussion and a delicately picked acoustic guitar. The song gently builds in this form, as the organic percussion swells ever so faintly while creaky strings make their appearance towards the end of the song.
And Create (!) is one of those EP’s that you wished your favourite artist would make: an EP that shows your favourite artist tinkering and experimenting with their sound, taking risks, while partnering with another established act to commit the experiment to tape. Thankfully, one of my recent favourite artists, Liz herself, has shed any sense of musical conservatism and cast herself to the wind of these haunting low-fi bluesy spirituals, with Create (!) as her able companions. And Create (!) is a rewarding experiment that pays off handsomely as a rich listening experience conceived in ambitious experimentalism and sincerity.