FERRON

"Turning Into Beautiful"

Ferrononline.com

"Hello, my friends," Ferron sings in the first lines on her new album, "I feel so happy to be back." "Turning Into Beautiful," her first album of new songs in nine years, marks the return of the most distinctive talent to emerge from the women's music movement of the 1980s. With her jazz-inflected harmonies, elastic meter, long lines and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, this one-named singer-songwriter from British Columbia expanded on the late-'70s songwriting experiments of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.

The new disc continues in that same vein, and if it falls short of Ferron's early '80s masterpieces, it marks the welcome reappearance of a major voice. Her rustiness shows in undernourished melodies and lazy lines such as "Learning to take a step in the direction of learning what's beautiful."

But when she tries to come to terms with a dead friend on "Goat Path," Ferron's craft snaps into focus. Producer D.B. Benedictson frames the song in atmospheric harmonies anchored by his own sliding phrases on a fretless electric bass. In her trademark whispery alto, which draws the listener into her confidence, Ferron murmurs, "For a year after you died, I couldn't cry, I couldn't feel anything / I was earthbound on a dusted road, a tired bird with just one wing."

A similar spell is cast when she evokes her long-absent father on "In the Mean Time" or a departed lover on "Already Gone." That song's lilting melody, reinforced by steel guitar, is countered by a pained confession: While her lover was boarding a bus to leave, the singer was curled up in a grassy meadow, dreaming of better times.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Jammin' Java.