Yet another debut from an independent artist, WHERE I AM is the work of singer/songwriter, Jen Haugland. For a debut project, the songwriting is very strong as a clear lyrical voice is established. Haugland displays a good sense of melody and does not necessarily default to obvious chord voicing and progressions. I really like the aggressive guitar work on “Deep Into You” and the sense of gradual building to a climactic moment.
The band that Haugland and producer, Eric Copeland pull together, featuring some of Nashville’s premiere session musicians, is pretty great and Copeland sensitively brings out the best in the arrangements, which are subtle where they need to be and appropriately atmospheric or moody when the moment calls for it. “The Storm”, “Where I Am” and “So Hard to Find” (especially) employ some sophisticated musical backdrops (some nice jazzy bits) that really dress the songs appropriately in melancholy finery.
The 60’s pastiche of “Little Bit Crazy” draws inspiration from The Beatles and even recalls female artists like Sara Bareilles and Francesca Battistelli. The project really sounds warm (thanks to engineer, Ronnie Brookshire) as if it was mostly recorded with analog equipment. Part of that may be that there is precious little electronic influence on the album. There are occasional loops and such but it meshes pretty seamlessly with the acoustic elements.
This record has a real human sound that meshes well with the lyrics, too. Lyrically, WHERE I AM is clearly made for a “churched” audience so it should garner significant radio play. From a purely artistic point of view, putting aside the considerations of sales/audience/radio play, I would like to see a little more tension between the spirit and the flesh…….maybe see the process of struggle a little more, as Haugland does quite effectively with the song “Loved You Well.” Lyrics of encouragement and hope are that much more effective contrasted with the pathos of pain. I really DO appreciate the fact that Haugland doesn’t avoid the deeper, darker subjects that are a part of the life of us all, Christian or not. – Shawn McLaughlin