If you detect something expansive and mysterious in the music of Jenee Halstead, a freedom that owes no debt to place and time — or even genre — you understand where she’s coming from. And where she’s headed ... deeper into the essence of song.
Her evolution from folk singer to ethereal rocker mirrors her journey from the West Coast to the East. As a youngster in Spokane, Washington, Jenee followed the lead of hippie parents and explored music freely. She heard something in it all — from medieval choral works, to Led Zeppelin to Dolly Parton — and it tugged at her, even as she earned her degree at Gonzaga.
To build on her personal, almost-secret songwriting, Jenee moved to Boston, where the seeds for many of her influences were planted. While Berklee College of Music was part of the allure, the academic approach turned her off, and away. “They make everybody use a laptop,” Jenee says, lamenting that mechanical method. “I thought, ‘Bob Dylan didn’t write “Blowin’ in the Wind” on a laptop! I don’t need this.’”
As it turns out, all she needed was a few nights with the working musicians in Cambridge’s basement Bohemia, Lizard Lounge — and an introduction to Patty Griffin, with whom she startlingly shares a vocal quality and artistic bent. “Patty Griffin was a complete revelation,” Jenee says. “It just opened up a whole new world to me. ... Patty Griffin gave me permission to just write.”
And write she did. It took just over a year for Jenee to record and release a debut album, “The River Grace,” and, with it, claim an Emerging Artist award at the 2009 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Indeed, the stylings on that debut made her a darling of the folk scene and won plaudits from Telluride and Mountain Stage. But, much like her coast-to-coast journey, Jenee Halstead’s evolution through her following three albums has been nothing short of revelatory.
Her latest release, “Edge of the World,” adds to the indefinable soundscape in which her soft and supple voice floats so exquisitely that the Boston Herald felt it “like sorceress music, rings of smoke through the trees and the bells of Rhymney,” while comparing Jenee’s working relationship with new producer Sean McLaughlin to that of Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois for the way it “embedded a tremendous voice in an otherworldly, shadowy soundscape.”
Spot on. With her gift for wonderfully evocative lyrical imagery, delivered with such a compelling voice, it’s easy to foresee that Jenee’s unfettered songwriting will continue to rise — like those swirling rings of smoke — into the expansive sky, and far beyond the edge of the world.
"Her new EP, “Edge of the World," hits my ears like sorceress music, rings of smoke through the trees and the bells of Rhymney. - Jed Gottlieb, Boston Herald
"With her new ep Edge Of The World she largely maintains the indie-americana nature of her previous release but swaps the avant-garde side of it for a much more accessible, rich, moody and beautifully produced sound." - Eric van Domburg Scipio, Heaven Magazine
With a voice that cuts clean and deep like the sharpest of blades, she leaves a mark that won’t be fading anytime soon with 'Edge of the World'." - Brian Carrol, Redline Roots
"She takes you to the edge with some of the most beautifully contemplative, ambient arrangements of recent times. I put this record on and was awestruck." - Steve Morse, Berklee College of Music
If it's difficult to place Jenee Halstead's third album, Raised by Wolves, in any distinct time or place, that's to the singer/songwriter's credit. Nominally rooted in folk and occasionally recalling PJ Harvey's knack for spare, unsettling underwater lullabies, Halstead doesn't quite exist in any specific category; despite some tension-racked drum loops, the music doesn't rock, yet it never succumbs to the soft strumming of folk. She, like Neko Case before her, mines allegories and fables for her songs, but Halstead isn't a cyclone. She floats and observes, almost achieving a spectral presence on her own songs. Certainly, her keen, powerful voice is a gateway into Raised by Wolves, but the music, for as many questions as it raises, is immediate. It's a vivid dream world and one that begs for more than one visit.” - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
For those who like a voice packed with an emotional charge, yet soft on the ears, as well as mesmerically told stories a little on the enigmatic side, then Jenee Halstead—made of utterly raw, singer-songwriting talent—will take you on an immensely enjoyable journey. - Emily Sexton, Maverick Magazine
“It's like PJ Harvey at her menacing and terrifying best." Andy Fife, Q Magazine
“...Halstead’s vocal is a wonder to behold, alternately enticing and alluring, or sinewy and seductive. This is an album that’s mesmerizing throughout, and whether her voice is heard soaring over the clip-clop pulse of the title track or simply in a sensual croon on the pleading “Never Another,” Halstead’s presence is nothing less than hypnotic. Consequently Raised By Wolves shows she’s been brought up right." - Lee Zimmerman, No Depression