It's Always Full

‘It’s Always Full’

Every time I put on Full Moon in 3, the latest album by Santa Barbara songwriter Jennifer Terran, something happens. Right from the opener, “Full Moon,” a physical shiver of I dunno what — hope? — coalesces from the probing piano arpeggios, from the words about pain-turned-to-fertilizer, from the high light-beam voice, and from the melody slowly reaching upward toward its goal. In “The America Song,” a pretty travelogue drops into a dark chord, and Terran’s “A-mer-i-ca” becomes the most mournful word I’ve ever heard. “Pomegranate Weed” is the deepest regret expressed in a quiet scream, dissolving into lovely babble and a piano that’s lost its mind so completely, it nearly boogies. The music sounds different with each listening.

“It’s infinite,” says Terran on the phone, slowly as if talking to herself, “how music and art can be perceived.” Though all her records hold diamonds, there was something special about creating Full Moon in 3. “It was a very huge synchronistic, magical, powerful time, which led to motherhood, which led to many things that opened up another room in my life.”

Terran records meticulously with wizard musicians (bassist Todd Sickafoose, drummer David Brogan), leaving wide spaces to set off artful details — vocal choirs, Mellotron gushes, synthesizer carvings, string dabs. And this time she had engineer Husky Hoskulds (Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple) to lend an objective ear. The result is a recording that talks like a friend in your car and unfolds like a Da Vinci on a good stereo. Terran worries about technology.

“It’s sort of sad that MP3s are taking over,” she says, “ ’cause they don’t have the depth. And you’ve gotta ask yourself, how are people listening to MP3s? On their computer, with a weird little speaker.”

So much depends on preconceptions too. Terran says one listener couldn’t take it when she sang out of tune on a particular passage. “I just thought, y’know, I intended that. And what is out of tune? I started thinking about people like John Coltrane, and I wondered if he had reactions like that.”

Though her father is a jazz trumpeter and her favorite music largely follows suit, Terran herself doesn’t . . . swing. She’s a songwriter, one who tries new forms. She says she likes “pure” music. What’s that?

“Umm... where you’re not afraid of what you sound like when you perform, and you surrender to whatever is genuinely coming up in that moment.” You’ll hear that when you see her live.

I’m listening to “Opening’s Had,” a dense yet transparent wind of baroque voices swirling like cranial demons. It’s on my computer for once, which does have advantages. The silly music-visualizing program generates the image of a coruscating orange star, which, as the music fades, shrinks to a small white full moon. There are no coincidences.

Jennifer Terran (with cellist Laura Mihalka) plays Hotel Café, Tues., Sept. 5, at 8:30 p.m. A 2001 story about her is at Also visit

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