The twelve songs on Gina Clowes’ solo debut True Colors testify to her talents within the bluegrass realm as well as her ability to transform it into something wholly her own. Rather than being beholden to the genre’s traditional subject matter, Clowes wields the music as a worthy vehicle for self-expression covering a gamut of emotions and issues. She’s ably supported by a supporting cast who provide crisp, bell-clear accompaniment without ever attempting to outshine Clowes and it results in a deceptively simple assortment of songs where virtuosity exists only to serve compositional needs rather than highlighting any one participant as a star. This unified approach helps get the performances over with listeners even more and encourages repeat listening – these are the sort of songs where repeated hearings will uncover new wrinkles or riches that went unnoticed on previous spins. You’ll want to hear it again and again.
It earns your respect and attention from the first. “Puppet Show” is simply a superb piece of songwriting that would likely have merits in whatever style it embraced, but the bluegrass approach gives it a level of intimacy it might have otherwise lacked. Clowes’ younger brother, Victor Furtado’s claw hammer banjo proves to be an excellent musical foil for Clowes’ more typical chromatic style. Sister, Malia Furtado’s fiddle playing is another important musical component contributing to the album’s success and she plays a crucial role on songs like “True Colors” and the spiritually minded “Looking for Sunshine”. The former song is a love song that could only be written straight from the pages of the songwriter’s life and Clowes does an excellent, very individual job of communicating her emotions while the latter is a more straight ahead tune that features showstopper vocal from Clowes that will stick in listener’s memories. “For Better Or For Worse” will connect with anyone who has experienced a failing or troubled marriage and the vocal performance from Heather Berry Mabe is full of pathos and deeply felt regret.
“Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak” is another song featuring guest vocalists and the introduction of male voices into this album won’t disorient listeners in anyway, especially thanks to the tastefully handled harmony vocals and the way the song seems to shrug off the very heartbreak in the lyrics. “Goodbye, Lianne” is a breezy and boisterous bluegrass instrumental with some stunning individual performances that come together without even a single misstep. “I’ll Stay Home” is the final original track with lyrics on True Colors and the sensitive writing, alongside an equally sensitive singing performance from Clowes, makes this one of the album’s more memorable efforts. She finishes True Colors with its only cover, a re-envisioning of Nina Simone’s “Beautiful Land” that still manages to invoke every bit of the tenderness and soul defining Simone’s version. It’s a wonderful album from its opening seconds to the last and there’s really no filler per se. The track listing for True Colors is expertly assembled and solidifies Gina Clowes as a talent capable of far more than just being a talented musician.