|Cara Jones' debut album, Different Skies, was released in May of 1994. It soon became the talk of the import CD stores in Tokyo, and slowly but surely the talk spread to reach the CD-buying public. Although released by Samson records, a small, independent label in Tokyo, Different Skies quickly sold 15,000 copies before suddenly disappearing from the shelves -- a sales record that is hard to ignore.
When Different Skies came out, people raved over her voice -- a high, clear voice that soared, rather than sang, as if dancing across the sky. And the sound -- a fresh, compelling sound that draws you in. The album was praised in the press as one which, by virtue of that voice and that sound, is relaxing and refreshing at the same time.
Of course I, too, was one of those strongly drawn to the sound of her music. But at the same time, I was most impressed by the depth and power of Cara Jones as a songwriter. On first listen, the songs she writes seem to be simple love songs but, although her songs often do take love as their ostensible theme, below the surface they speak of larger issues of modern life. Moreover, they speak in deceptively simple terms, using simple words, and somehow manage to dig deep into complex and universal concerns. And it is precisely this dichotomy in which I, personally, feel Cara's skill and promise as a songwriter lie.
Looking back to Different Skies, the opening number "Far Away" seems at first to be a song about a woman who has traveled far from her love and the longing she feels for him. However, upon listening more closely, you hear the message that maybe the distance between two people has less to do with the physical miles between them than the difference (and distance) between their individual ways of thinking and feeling.
The song "New Life" hints at the possibility that when something new is found it means that something old is no longer needed and thus unconsciously discarded. The title track of the album Different Skies is also more than just a song about the difference in values between two people in love -- it may be a slight exaggeration, but I feel that it takes on much larger questions of the real differences, if any, between people of different corners of the globe.
"Lover's Lies" is a very realistic depiction of the hardship that comes from having an affair with a married man, but it is more than that. It touches on the eternal theme of the power struggle between man and woman, a war which will never be won.
Listening to Different Skies, these were some of my impressions of Cara's songwriting talents. Much of the praise of this new artist, Cara Jones, was of her voice, but I am unable to forget how impressed I was with Cara Jones the songwriter. But whether the reason be her voice or her songs, it is obvious why this artist's debut was so highly regarded.
And that brings me to Pandora's Box, her long-awaited sophomore effort. This album does not disappoint. If anything, in terms of sound as well as songwriting, this new album far surpasses its predecessor in depth and scope. Moreover, the inclusion of two songs recorded in Dublin, Ireland, with members of the Mary Black band ("Runaway Train" and "I Need Love") seems like the manifestation of a "dream session", and perfectly suits Cara's music. These, as well as the other 9 songs of the album recorded in Tokyo with the Caraband, comprise this beautiful new album.
To be perfectly honest, my only dissatisfaction with the first album, Different Skies, was the highly programmed sound and the many remixes that seemed at times somewhat unnecessary. In the case of Cara Jones, her voice is so appealing that I thought they should have skipped the electronics-heavy production and concentrated on a more natural sound that would best suit such a voice. Happily, on Pandora's Box it is as though my request was granted. It goes without saying of the Mary Black band tracks, but the Jimmy Smyth-produced numbers as well as the Tokyo recordings with the Caraband were all done with a heavy emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and have a straightforward and natural sound to them. From the very first track -- the appropriately-titled "Wood and Strings" -- this album belies a deep love of the acoustic sound, and not surprisingly fits Cara Jones' voice perfectly. The resulting sound of the album is, in turn, much deeper and richer than before.
Most importantly, the album shows Cara Jones's growth as a writer. I have already spoken of my interest not only in Cara Jones the vocalist, but in Cara Jones the songwriter. The original songs of this second album are even richer and more engaging than those of her first. And, as I have written earlier, her songs are anything but superficial, masquerading though they may as love songs written in deceptively simple language. Again, they use simple words to delve into the more complex problems of the human condition, but do so in an even more polished way than before.
Take for example, the opening number "Wood and Strings". A direct translation in the context of this song might be an "acoustic guitar", however it may be a metaphor for any number of things. It might refer to how we in this society put work before all else, and in our rush to develop better technology we may have begun to neglect the matters of the heart.
Unfortunately, I haven't room enough in this article to write about each and every song, but all of them are rich in their depth of meaning far beyond the surface of the words. Unlike your average song in which there is nothing more nor nothing less to understand than the surface meaning of the words themselves, these are songs into which you can read deeply, where every time you listen to them another layer of color comes through like a prism each time you move it against the light.
In my opinion, the reason why so many of Cara's songs possess this unusual depth and quality is that, as a songwriter Cara Jones is constantly trying to see what isn't apparent, to hear what cannot normally be heard. In her song, "Cry In The Distance" she repeatedly uses such phrases as "if you look closely" and "if you listen closely". Many people -- often too busy with the mundane matters of their daily lives, sometimes having given up on finding a deeper meaning for their lives -- rarely take the time to listen closely, to look deeper, even though they might have received the call to do just that. Most that do look or listen on a deeper level fail to see or hear anything. In the midst of such an era, Cara Jones is one who does look deep inside, trying to see what can't be seen and hear what can't be heard.
With the beautiful voice and clear, warm sound of the music of Cara Jones, I think that this new album Pandora's Box will create even more of a stir among music lovers than did Different Skies. And it is my hope that Cara Jones will be recognized for the talented songwriter she is.
August 1996, Tokyo