Beguiling New York singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins is a little bit honky-tonk, a little bit ambient chill | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Beguiling New York singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins is a little bit honky-tonk, a little bit ambient chill

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On Play Till You Win (Cassandra Complex), New York singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins recorded a song called “Tennessee Waltz.” It’s an original, rather than the country classic by Pee Wee King made famous by Patti Page, but the older tune ingeniously turns up in her song—as she echoes its sentiment of lost love, its iconic theme haunts her solitude. That postmodern trick is emblematic of her music, which deftly collides sleepy honky-tonk balladry with ambient chill. She pulls it off with the strength of her beguiling melodies and the rich details in her arrangements, especially the woozy lead guitar on “Candy Crane,” which sounds like it was lifted straight from a George Harrison album. Jenkins, who previously played bass and sang behind Eleanor Friedberger, moves easily between elements that would seem strange bedfellows, evoking early Rosanne Cash as much as Julee Cruise. She observes it all at a remove that allows her combine things in fresh ways. The creepy, pedal-steel-drenched “Jan Lee Jansen” describes a ghost emerging from the sea to search for her titular lover and killer. “The fish have sucked the wounds you left / Found shelter in my thighs,” she sings. The song’s mordant sensibility fits right in with the post-Twin Peaks aura of “Red Lips.” I could use a bit more energy at times—the gloomy torpor gets a bit stultifying by the end—but there’s doubt that Jenkins has cooked up an absorbing sound. Bunny and Jodi open.   v

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