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Jenny Whiteley

Forgive or Forget – 2010 (Black Hen)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Jenny Whiteley

Two-time Juno Award-winner for Roots Album of the Year, Ontario-based songwriter Jenny Whiteley's latest is but her fourth effort since 2001. With each subsequent album, Whiteley has evolved from the vignettes of common folk caught up in life's challenge comprising her self-titled debut. "Forgive or Forget," like "Dear" and "Hopetown" which came before, is more universally palatable than her more rootsy initial offering, but one misses the narrative intensity and youthful fragility of Gloria and Train Goin' West.

Stop living in the past, Whiteley is thinking! Now well into her mid-thirties, Whiteley has created a fully-realized album. The album's only non-original, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant's Raining in My Heart sets the pace, a collection of mid-tempo ballads that sway more than swing.

"Forgive or Forget" is gentler than anything Whiteley has previously attempted, extending what she explored on "Dear." The songs continue her career-long examination of love, regret, and loss. Her voice remains Whiteley's strongest asset, perhaps even more fully utilized than on previous albums. Whiteley continues to expand her repertoire, injecting a soft bluesy quality to her phrasing. Much like Lynn Miles and Katie Moore, Whiteley isn't afraid to take risks while evoking change.

Tim O'Brien sings on Ripple Effect, the first of three songs than picks up into anything resembling a country-pop song, and despite imagining a loss of significance singing "I can't live without you," Whiteley sounds like she's enjoying the reflection. She turns 'Lonely' into a four-syllable verb in Day Without Words.

The highlight is Cold Cold Kisses; Whiteley approaches the song with sultriness and the song's warmth belies its title. The instrumentation from producer Steve Dawson provides sophisticated countrypolitan touches without descending into irony or worse. An album well-worth experiencing.