Using guitar, piano, and mandolin, Cass creates a sound that is easy on the ear and would fit onto any adult alternative radio format in the country. But she really shines as a lyricist. She mentions in her press bio that she's a fan of Jim Croce, and that makes perfect sense: like Croce, she writes tunes about small-town life and broken hearts. Whether it's a tale of the desperation of recalling a life-changing ex-lover in "A Kind of Compromise" or a lullaby to a lost friend on his wedding day in the haunting "Vagabond Heart," she sings about real hearts and real souls in a way that makes their experiences of pain and loss palpable. Her characters might be living on the streets of Tacoma or drinking their lives away in Mexico or hanging on the edge of breakdown as they drive across Canada looking for some emotional connection, but at heart all of her songs have deep roots in Michigan small-town life.
What gives Jen Cass's music the power to lift your heart from the blues is an underlying sense of hope. While her sagas of souls in struggle are bittersweet, Cass is a master at smile tunes too. "Madeleine," for instance, is a song about the life of a small child that provides the musical equivalent of a Hallmark card without the sappiness and cliché.
Jen Cass joins fellow singer-songwriters Joe Jencks and Justin Roth for an in-the-round showcase at the Ark on Thursday, December 2. She is also part of the annual Ark concert of the Ann Arbor Musicians for Peace on Sunday, December 19.