Gina Clowes has this music in her DNA. Her siblings Victor and Malia Furtado join her on the first solo release of her musical career, True Colors, and there’s a sense of community pervading this album that’s inescapable. This is close-knit music, heedless of fashion, and speaks from an intensely personal space both lyrically and musically. It adheres to traditional bluegrass at various points, but it’s also unafraid of deviating from its course and exploring different possibilities within a familiar context. She makes use of a variety of approaches without ever adhering too strongly to one particular line of musical thought. True Colors shows that Clowes’ true colors contain a multitude of shades and never settle for one look when the music’s possibilities are so vivid. There are a couple of guest singers on the album and some instrumentals, even one cover, but this is unquestionably Gina Clowes’ album when it’s all said and done.
True Colors begins with “Puppet Show”. It’s the first of Clowes’ bluegrass tunes with a more modern sensibility and joins other songs like “True Colors”, “The Wayward Kite”, “I’ll Stay Home” and the penultimate instrumental “La Puerta Del Diablo” as the marquee cuts on True Colors cutting against traditionally minded fare. “Puppet Show” is chiefly distinguished by one of the album’s finest lyrics and an equally excellent Clowes vocal while “True Colors” expertly mixes the past and present with a surprisingly strong pop music appeal. The energy she pours into her vocal really puts it over the top. “I’ll Stay Home” is the closest thing on True Colors to purely singer/songwriter material and dispenses with the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle in favor of a straight forward acoustic guitar attack. “The Wayward Kite” and “La Puerta Del Diablo” shows a more experimental side of her musical nature that refuses to be pigeonholed as a bluegrass artist. Instead, the former flirts with classical elements while the last manages to mix Latin influences into her natural Americana roots.
The more traditional songs on True Colors that stand out are “Saylor’s Creek”, “Looking for Sunshine”, and “Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak”. The latter tune is an excellent example of the blues lesson that sometimes you shrug your shoulders and make a joke of your pain to keep from crying. The mood isn’t overdone and it never descends into farce. Guest vocalist Scott Brannon and his harmony partner Chris Henry have the skill to pull this off and never put a foot wrong throughout. “Saylor’s Creek” is a condensed cinematic marvel that accomplishes much with an artfully minimal amount of effort and “Looking for Sunshine” has such unassuming, unfettered grace that it makes its desire filling the lyrics all the more effective. True Colors would be an impressive debut from anyone, but the levels she reaches on these dozen songs are so impressive that you can’t help but wonder how much further she can go. Based on the evidence in these songs, there may be no limit.