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Johanna Warren – “Gemini I” Review

The quietly dark princess of folk
Johanna Warren
Johanna Warren

Johanna Warren has a Nordic quality to her folk songs despite being from Portland, USA. Her voice has a beauty and depth to it that draws you in and her acoustic guitar based music has a circular, almost tribal element to it in places. Gemini I is her third album and further cements her style of quirky, introspective folk.

The opening “A bird in a Crocodiles Mouth” see’s her jumping octaves with her voice over a simple but delicate melody of guitars and faint drum pulses. It’s mystical elements are exactly why I always think of Norse mythology when I hear her music. Warren also has a habit of keeping songs short leaving you wanting more too and indie rock “Hungry Ghost” is catchy, radio friendly and an understated number – similar in some ways to Jesca Hoop – but clocks in a 2 mins 30. Johanna always leaves you wanting more. When she does decide to allow a song more room to breathe like “Let Me Stay” the results are utterly astounding. It’s a finger picked and woodwind filled treat full of wonderfully poetic lyrics of vivid imagery. As with all Warren’s music, it’s never just the guitar – there’s always a layered approach going on with the sound even if its subtle piano or keyboards. It gives this track and the album as a whole a warm comfy tone even when the words are not of comfort.

One of the best tracks on the album for me is “The Blessing/The Curse”. It’s a simple guitar melody to begin with but its accented with a dual vocal and lots of instrumental embellishments that make the whole track feel spooky and tense. The lyrics really hit home “After all I wanted nothing if not love, the blessing and the curse that I can’t stop dreaming of…”. Piano takes to the fore for the first time for “circlenot astraight”as a dark, haunted tune unravels that lets Johanna’s smooth voice join forces for a song that comes and goes in waves of beauty and pain. Almost in juxtaposition “There is a Light” is a harmonium based track that feels religious in tone and cleansing in its palette.

The final third of the album starts off with “Glukupikron” which is an ancient word for Sweet-bitter – as opposed to bittersweet. The song itself has a plodding Hawaiian twang to it with its tuned percussive melodies and warm guitars. It certainly feels bittersweet before “Little Red Lines” brings its lethagy of the working day in a dark oppressive track before a more traditional guitar, cello and vocal folk track closes out the album on a more peaceful and positive vibe with “White Owl”.

Gemini I is a short album but it certainly stays with you way after it’s finished. I really appreciate the gentle layers that each song has and although Johanna’s ballad tracks are great, it’s the darker tracks that quietly unnerve you and stay the longest for me personally – but then I prefer darker toned music. One for any fans of singer/songwriters and good folk music.

Recommended Track : The Blessing The Curse

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