Up and coming fiddler and singer/songwriter Jen Starsinic’s musical journey has, thus far, been quite impressive. After landing a full-time bluegrass fiddling gig at the age of 14, busking on street corners, studying old time at its source in Clifftop, WV, attending the Berklee College of Music, and hitting the road with top touring Americana bands such as The David Mayfield Parade, Darol Anger and The Republic of Strings, and Nora Jane Struthers, Starsinic is ready to stand on her own two feet. Starsinic just released The Flood and The Fire, her debut record.
While you are most likely to see Jen Starsinic toting a fiddle or open back banjo, hallmarks of her old time roots, The Flood and The Fire is certainly not an old time record. While there are vestiges of vintage Appalachia throughout the recording, there are hints of country heartache, droning Irish folk, cello, and haunting pedal steel. Her beautiful voice, powerful guitar, virtuosic fiddle skills and stunning talent as a songwriter combine into a beautiful mixture of modern songwriting and American roots music. Each tune represents an aching, a longing, and the snapshot the record offers into the musical soul of Jen Starsinic is startling; this young woman is most certainly a rising voice in contemporary Americana.
A Pennsylvania native transplanted to the center of the Nashville scene, Jen is joined on The Flood and the Fire by a host of notable musician and friends from across the US. David Mayfield lends his vocals, and Charlie Rose and Eric Law bring their pedal steel and cello. Canadian banjo player Allison de Groot of the band Oh My Darling joins in on the song “Six-Foot-Three”, and Molly Tuttle, of the Tuttles with AJ Lee, brings her guitar to the song “Ragdolls”. Lukas Pool and Gabe Hirshfeld lend their banjos and Berklee College of Music professor and legendary violinist Matt Glaser takes a rare role on the honky tonk piano. The album was produced by fellow Berklee grad Brady Custis, and recorded in Somerville, MA at his home studio in August in 100+ degree weather with no air conditioning and no fans. You can hear the vibrant intimacy of the moment in Jen’s music, and you can hear this is the kind of risk-taking music making that can only be done with the help of great friends and a strong community.
The Flood and the Fire is a beautiful mixture of modern songwriting and American roots music. The first number, “Time to Lose”, opens with folk-pop vocals reminiscent of Lisa Loeb or Kimya Dawson, but the powerhouse guitar and banjo backup propel it to something far more. The same is true of track four, “Six Foot Three”; it’s a reminder that the old time sound need not stay stuck in the past. The Flood and the Fire shows Jen’s skill and versatility in switching musical modes. “The Only One Who Can Break a Heart” is a perfect honky-tonk tear-jerker worthy of Pasty Cline, but it is followed by the haunting “It’s a Foreign Thing”, performed with solo voice and fiddle. It’s a touching lament in a performance that brings to mind the playing of Bruce Molsky.
The Flood and the Fire is a marriage of old and new, a blend of harmony and poetry, and the debut of a powerful new voice in American folk music.