It’s obvious, when listening to Jenna McSwain’s five-song EP, Enjoy Your Space, that this singer/songwriter has studied jazz. This is partly due to how McSwain plays piano throughout, but also in the manner she sings. There’s a spontaneous way she vocalizes that gives her singing a distinct jazzy vibe.
Just listen to the piano intro to “The Spark,” with its complex series of notes if you want to hear McSwain’s instrumental jazz chops. She is from South Carolina but calls New Orleans home. There is a touch of Southern-ness to the way she performs, but she doesn’t play piano with the sort of rolling style that’s become synonymous with New Orleans keyboard playing. Instead, she plays – although well – with more of a formal style.
Lyrically, these songs are far more philosophical than romantic. For example, the one song title that includes the word ‘love,’ “Love Ballad,” is about how love is what we, humans, “are made of,” instead of words of love directed at a romantic partner. This song, by the way incorporates some fine orchestration about midway through it. It’s an example of how McSwain doesn’t use her songs – at least during this project – to speak about her personal life. Instead, these songs are mainly pointed at humans and the human condition, in general. And for the most part, these lyrics are positive and encouraging. Music, one surmises, is McSwain’s way of helping to bring people up, instead of ever putting them down. Although the album closes with a quiet one titled “Float,” none of these songs are what you might term sad. One imagines her parents drilled into her the saying, ‘If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all” because everything sung about is glass half full-esque.
The project’s title track, “Enjoy Your Space,” is its most upbeat one. In addition to McSwain’s plunking piano, there is electric guitar supporting her playing as well as oohing and ahh-ing backing vocals supporting and backing up what she’s singing about. There’s even the sound of soulful horns running through it. It may just be the album’s most Southernly soulful track. With that said, though, McSwain sings with the sort of vocal instrument that is obviously trained. In other words, she doesn’t come off as though she’s gone straight from the church choir loft to the recording studio. There was training worked into her overall approach, for sure.
Jenna McSwain might have some obvious artistic influences, but she’s still difficult to peg and tie to any one performer or style. No, she has a sound and approach all her own. Just as this EP’s title encourages others to “enjoy” their “space,” McSwain, too, can be heard enjoying her own musical space. Usually, artists this relatively new, need a lot of time to find their unique voices. Not so for McSwain, though, as she sounds to have plotted out her artistic path already, seemingly fully formed.
Enjoy Your Space is a welcome series of sounds to inhabit your space. Jenna McSwain comes off smart, professional and decidedly in charge of her destiny with this excellent release.