Singer and guitarist Essie Jain’s new album with composer Nico Muhly comes wrapped in a making-of documentary by Natalie Johns — an “exploration of Jain’s re-entrance into the music world,” as it was touted. In it, Jain says, “I knew if I played music again, it would have to be something spectacular.” That’s a lot of fuss for someone who put out her last record two years ago. But whether or not you call it a comeback, All Became Golden is a pretty spectacular blend of folk and chamber music.
Jain’s austere songwriting contrasts beautifully with the plaintive arrangements of Muhly, who colors in her stately cadences with drafty strings and icy little piano tunes. With a voice that can be smooth and husky or immaculately fluted, Jain shapes her words with an expert neutrality that admits warming inflections of opera, jazz and, on “Raise You,” gospel. Her lyrics pare away identity until a core of pure intimacy is laid bare: “I am listening,” she sings on “Glory,” “you are hearing me.” Her emotional reserve makes her simplest declarations — notably, the “I want you” on “No Mistake” — deeply piercing. Though typically meticulous and solemn, Jain’s music takes on a fresh air of dignified ardor with Muhly in the wings.