By Art Podell

The Oxygen GirlFrom the first note she sings on her new CD, The Oxygen Girl, Jeni Hankins can’t be mistaken for anyone else. Jeni was born in Jewell Ridge, a Virginia Coal mining town in the Appalachian Mountains, yet despite her subsequent education and sophistication, she’s your best pal sharing a song and a cup at the kitchen table. Friendly, warm, West Virginia daughter, real.

The Oxygen Girl is a fleshy and personal slice of a young lady’s life. The heart wrenching loss of her father who had been her mentor and best friend, the breakup of her long relationship with Billy Kemp, her musical partner for years (Jeni & Billy), a new relationship - all culminating in an almost year-long vagabond journey of 6,000 miles across the United States in a Fiat 500 with six instruments, suitcases, boxes of CDs, camping gear, a hamper full of food, and her new friend Graham Frear, whom she refers to playfully as ‘The Englishman’.

Jeni: “…Graham, the Englishman, and I headed out west in October of last year. I had written about half of the songs for The Oxygen Girl...On the way to California from Nashville, we’d drive until I would get sleepy in the afternoon. There was no shade in the dry desert towns of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, so we used to park the Fiat under the aluminum canopies of derelict gas stations and take long naps…

…In writing the Oxygen Girl, I gave myself permission to write about anything and everything that passed before my eyes as I watched my Dad let go and as I let go of so many things I knew.”

Jeni Hankins 3True to her word, The Oxygen Girl is a patchwork of unrelated events and places seen through the eyes of a young woman seeking resolution and healing. Though mostly unrelated to each other, each song is a time-stamp of a moment in her life. Once on the scent, I listened again and again. Each time, Jeni Hankins and her journey emerged more vividly. Sharing a chapter in a life is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s accomplished in The Oxygen Girl.

The jagged time-line moves from England (The Shipping News, The British Invisible Mending Service), to a lonely location somewhere on the road in the US (Derelict Station). From there to a reflection of love lost (You Disappear), on to the tawdry environs of a strip club in Las Vegas (Palomino Girls). The CD hop-scotches back and forth across the Atlantic like a travelogue whose pages have been disassembled and reassembled. The odd romantic snapshot of a Mariachi band on the streets of London (Dance On The Stars), to the loneliness of the road in Sleeping In Doorways. The title song The Oxygen Girl is a browned old time photo of a traveling circus, complete with the megaphoned voice of the circus barker, provided by ‘The Englishman’, Graham Frear. The CD ends in a tribute to the father whom Jeni lost in 2016 and whose memory haunts every song on her journey.

...Hey Dad, do you ever see old Yeats.

Do you get into hot debates

about rhymes and how they’re ending

We had things we wanted to do -

adventures, me and you…

- Excerpt from ‘Hey Dad’ - ©2017 Jeni Hankins

The elements that went into the physical creation of the CD are more easily identified. The presence and excellence of the inspired playing, engineering, guidance and spirit of Craig Eastman on guitar, dobro, fiddle, mandolin and recording console cannot be overlooked if one is to understand the simplicity of the message and how rigorously it is protected. The musical bonds that connect them and their singleness of vision is obvious throughout. David Jackson adds bass and accordion, Alison (Ali) Eastman, harmony vocals, Sarah Kramer on trumpet, and Graham Frear (‘the Englishman’) on ‘megaphone’ and harmony vocals. For details on who and where, see Credits below. With this close-knit mix of talented friends, it is easy to envision Jeni center-stage at all times, the message never clouded or obscured by undue production ‘cleverness’. Rare. Kudos to the team.

Jeni (speaking about Craig): “…We were an instant musical family and carried on together up and down the coast of California and, as I continued to work on the songs, I knew that I wanted to make my first solo album with Craig and Ali and Graham…So, when the touring was over toward the end of November, we all settled down at Pepper Peg, Craig’s studio in Sherman Oaks, and started imagining the sounds for the songs…

…To me the recording process was full of the cleanliness of desert sand – something I’ve loved since I was an adolescent in New Mexico – the purifying roughness of sand. There’s a desolation to the record that comes from so much loss documented in the songs, but there’s also the sparkly shimmery glitter of the Palomino club, of the waves of the seas around the British Isles, of the Ritzy Cinema, of the needle flashing in the mender’s hand..”

The CD is accompanied by a colorful sixteen page booklet that includes complete lyrics and credits.

A song list, a listing of credits and text from the booklet:

The Shipping News - © Jeni Hankins, 2016

The British Invisible Mending Service – © Jeni Hankins, Greg Frear, 2016

Derelict Station – © Jeni Hankins, 2016

You Disappear – © Jeni Hankins, 2016

Palomino Girls - © Jeni Hankins, Greg Frear, 2016

Will I Always Wander - © Jeni Hankins, 2016

Sleeping In Doorways - © Jeni Hankins, 2016

Dance On The Stars - © Graham Frear, 2016

The Oxygen Girl - © Jeni Hankins, Graham Frear, 2016

Golden Thread - © Jeni Hankins, Alison Eastman, 2016

Nothing Lasts Forever - © Jeni Hankins, Billy Kemp, 2016

Hey Dad - © Jeni Hankins, 2017

Secret Track – (you will have to listen to this yourself)

Jeni Hankins 2Credits:

Jeni Hankins – Vocals, Guitar (except tracks 3,4,7, and 9), Sewing Machine, and Bowed Psaltry

Craig Eastman – Tenor Violin, Violin, Fiddle, Mandolin, Lap Steel, Dobro, Slide Guitar, Bass, Guitar, Nylon Guitar, Banjo, Scissors, Bowed Psaltry.

Alison Eastman – Harmony Vocals

David Jackson – Accordion, Bass (track 8) and Harmony Vocals (track 10)

Graham Frear – Carnival Barker (track 9), Harmony Vocals (track 10)

Sarah Kramer – Trumpet (track 8)

Buster Posey – Dog Collar Percussion (track 8)

Produced by: Jeni Hankins, Craig Eastman, Graham Frear and Alison Eastman

Mastering: Amy Marie at Yes Master

Photography: Graham Frear

Packaging Design: Dave Bacon

Record Label: Jewell Ridge Records

Jeni writes: ‘I haven’t written many love songs. I’ve had my head turned by other things – fiery union speeches, the sound of a man trying to breathe through forty years of coal dust, the breathtaking swirl of colors in an old quilt brought out of my grandmother’s old cedar chest. But last summer, I had my head turned by love – and by loss.

So I set myself the task of writing a collection of love songs. As I wrote them, I traveled 15,000 miles across the USA, the country I was leaving, and Britain, the home I was seeking. The album is a love letter – a scattering of ashes and the sparks of hope that rise from them.’

Jeni Hankins

Videos of Jeni’s personal appearances can easily be found on You Tube with a simple search.

For convenience, two are listed here:

The CD is available on CD Baby.

Listen to the tracks and download directly from Jeni

Jeni splits her time between London and Nashville and she’ll be touring the mid-Atlantic region and Florida in October and November.

Reviewer’s note:

Jeni’s work has been reviewed in previous issues of this website by the supremely talented Susie Glaze whose heavenly voice has earned Susie her own well-deserved accolades. For additional perspective, Susie’s Review of Heart Of The Mountain, Jeni and Billy’s signature release can be found here.

Art Podell was one half of the iconic Greenwich Village duo Art and Paul before moving to L.A. in 1961. An original member of the New Christy Minstrels, Art wrote songs for many of the artists of the day. He continues to perform and write and he rotates as a host of KPFK’s Roots Music and Beyond.