Not having heard Jeanne Jolly's 2010 EP Falling In Carolina, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from her debut full-length Angels. But I was surprised to discover that the album largely situates her luscious voice within a predominantly country context. Part of the reason for that surprise stems from the fact that I was introduced to Jolly's singing through her vocal contributions to The Foreign Exchange's 2011 collection Dear Friends: An Evening with The Foreign Exchange; in keeping with its acoustic soul sound, I imagined that Jolly's own release might continue on in that vein. Notwithstanding a few exceptions, however, Angels is tailor-made for country radio, a move that will likely please some listeners and disappoint others. Based on the ten-song set produced by Chris Boerner, it would appear that the Raleigh, North Carolina-based singer-songwriter sees herself as a country singer first and foremost.
Ably assisted by Boerner, Jolly embeds her crystal-clear voice within a number of story-driven settings, with the twang of pedal steel guitarist Allyn Love never far behind. Though the songs' arrangements are rich with acoustic guitars, piano, and drums, the album's primary sonic weapon, naturally, is Jolly's songbird voice, whose graceful lilt on “Long Way Home” and impassioned reach on “Round and Round Again” (the latter bolstered by a backing choir) is never less than captivating. Unfortunately, as polished a production as the album is on vocal and instrumental grounds (and it is most definitely that), some material verges on generic, with certain songs sounding like they could just as easily be vehicles for a Carrie Underwood as a Jeanne Jolly (e.g., “Angels on Hayworth St.”). A plunge into a less commercial country style shows up in the cheeky lament “Tear Soup” where a near-yodeling Jolly drowns her sorrows in a wash of steel guitars. Changing things up slightly, “The Hard Way” sees her tackling a raw and bluesy style of the kind one associates with Shelby Lynne, and the Stones-ish guitar chords and guitar solo also help give the song a rougher edge.How telling it is, though, that the songs that stand out the most are the ones that have the least to do with country. Despite the steel guitar's presence, “All Is Not Lost” is more heartfelt ballad than country, while the spell cast by the wondrous, hymn-like meditation “The Kiss” is transfixing. The album's loveliest setting, “Sweet Love,” finds Jolly's alluring voice placed within a dreamy, downtempo setting that offers the singer ample opportunity to entrance the listener with her gorgeous voice. Would that Angels had included more of its kind.