The world of The JaneDear Girls (Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett) is a surprisingly convenient one for the narrators of the duo’s songs.
Young men are repeatedly painted as deceitful, hormone-driven sex fiends willing to do or say anything to get into a girl’s pants, and they bear the full burden of failed relationships. The narrators themselves oscillate between ‘good girls’ who know better than to fall for Young Billy’s shenanigans, naïve hearts who give themselves away only to have their innocence plucked from their unwitting grasps, and “wildflowers” who flaunt their sexuality by shaking their asses (on “Merry Go Round”) and who—in one case—make clear their intentions by planting a kiss on the lips of an unsuspecting stranger (“Sugar”).
Which one of those narrators appears in a given song is entirely dependent upon what is needed to facilitate that particular exercise in requisite subject matter. Like its lead single “Wildflower,” The JaneDear Girls’ debut album is comprised of the raw ingredients that are often perceived to be the building blocks of contemporary country music, without much consideration for how those ingredients might work together to form something substantial.
Those songs run through the gamut of stock characters, predictable themes and old clichés, as if all it takes for a country music album to be enjoyable is for that album to touch on as many of the expected settings and scenarios as possible.
That’s not all it takes, of course, and this album suffers from the fact that there’s no point at which any of its material converges—it’s like a big X/Y graph labeled “COUNTRY,” with each song representing a randomly placed dot.
A great album doesn’t necessarily have to be thematic, but the less the songs work together the more they should work as isolated numbers. Unfortunately, the songs on The JaneDear Girls fail to ever break out of their roles and offer more than just a sketch of a particular stereotype. “Shotgun Girl” makes no statement that can’t be derived from its title, and seems to exist only to provide the singer both the chance to mention riding in a “big ol’ truck” and the space for the obligatory reference to listening to “Waylon, Willie and Merle” while driving around in said truck.
Likewise, “Merry Go Round” (which features truly pointless T-Pain style autotuning on the vocals) gives the girls a chance to sing about dirty dancing, but the hook rings empty—since when is a female butt referred to as a “merry?”
The song that most characterizes this album’s great fault, however, is “Saturdays in September” (which was written by a five-head committee featuring Jeffrey Steele). The song aims to add a dash of teen drama through a tale of first love set against a backdrop of autumn. But it never actually defines why September is relevant in the lyrics—it assumes that listeners are familiar with the canon of coming-of-age songs that are set in autumn, and it tosses out lyrics that mention “Friday nights” and “the thrill of fall” in hope that there mere utterance of those phrases will trigger the desired emotional attachment.
To some degree, it works. But that’s only because our popular culture—including country music—has been saturated with stories about September, October and November. This, we’re lead to believe, is when teenagers fall in and out of love.
“Saturdays in September” epitomizes The JaneDear Girls because it, like the rest of material contained on the album, asks listeners to accept art that is merely perfunctory. The album asks listeners to accept that just mentioning September is good enough to stir nostalgia about autumn, and it asks them to pretend that they haven’t heard all of these songs—and not just the themes, but the actual nuts and bolts of the lyrics—over, and over, and over.
That’s just not reality. Brown and Leverett have compiled a collection of common songs, and among all of the posturing and point-plotting you’ll find not a single genuinely uncommon one among the bunch. And, unfortunately, nothing matches the relative exuberance of “Wildflower,” which is the closest they come to showing any unforced personality.
On top of all of that, the duo makes a surprisingly weak first impression as a vocal force. As individual singers, their voices lack color and power. Perhaps to combat that, much of the album is performed in robotic harmony that does them no favors. These tepid vocal performances are backed by typically anonymous sounding session tracks that are every bit as boring and worn as the lyrics.
There are many reasons why some artists get signed to record deals while some don’t, and there are many reasons why some artists who do get signed to record deals never have a great deal of success. I wouldn’t be so bold as to venture a guess as to why The JaneDear Girls were signed to Reprise, but I will say that a long list of female duos—many of whom were immensely talented—have come and gone from country music’s landscape with little fanfare. The Kinleys, Regina Regina and The Lynns are among my favorites from that long list. Why would The JaneDear Girls succeed where all of those acts (and many more) have failed?
Their debut album does nothing to answer that question. Nothing here represents a demonstration of anything but rudimentary talent. And if it becomes a hit, it will certainly be for reasons other than because of how it sounds.