Jessie Jones, Jessie Jones (Burger Records)
The self-titled debut from Jessie Jones, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter, based in Orange County, CA, comes from left field. From the former vocalist for the garage band, Feeding People, who left the band and took a musical hiatus, living off the grid, her crafted pop album is a surprise.
The opening cut, “Sugar Coated,” an infectious, and the most conventionally-structured, pop number on the album (i.e., an obvious choice for a “single”) provides a rough outline for Jessie Jones. The hook-laden, kiss-off song begins with a Dusty Springfield, country-soul groove that crescendos to a Phil Spector Wall-Of-Sound chorus. “Yes, you found my sound. Yes, you can kiss the ground,” belts Jones, over a percussive, pounding electric piano chord, “that I walk on, walk on.” The arc of the song is one of the consistent threads that run through the record. Jones’ songs have arcs and plateaus that often exude an unhinged exuberance, reminiscent in spirit to Annie Clark/St. Vincent. She balances the whimsical and confident.
Jones and producer-musician Bobby Harlow (of the legendary ‘90s Detroit garage band, The Go) keep the arrangements deceptively simple, and using occasional layering of vocals and vocal arrangements, the effect can be dizzying, as in Middle Eastern influenced “Lady La Dee Da” (with Jones’ vocals weaving with Hannah Glass’ violin lines) or mesmerizing, as in the Topanga Canyon-psychedelic pop of “Butterfly Knives.” Harlow isn’t a stranger to Jones; he also engineered Feeding People’s 2013 release, Island Universe. Feeding People, however, was less of a band than a group of individuals – all bursting with disparate influences – united in energy.
Collectively, the backing musicians, an eclectic, (mostly) LA-based group – including two former Feeding People bandmates, bassist Tomas Dolas and drummer Wyatt Blair, founders of the burgeoning Lolipop Records collective (store, studio, record label), percussionist-drummer David Shommer, better known as Duke Mushroom, who normally leads an New York-based Ethiopian band Bole2Harlem, violinist Hannah Glass, who is a member of the San Francisco-based band Your Fearless Leader, and astute LA string player Micah Keren Zvi – execute diverse arrangements with a precision, while displaying a looseness, on Jones’ album, and, in a sense, become Harlow and Jones’ garage version of the Wrecking Crew, the loose group of elite LA session musicians who played on scores of hit songs, produced from Los Angeles during the 1960s and early ‘70s.
Sure, there is a ‘60s waft that meanders throughout this record, but it leans toward Johnny Rivers’ version of “Into The Mystic,” rather than the Van Morrison original. And, with the wide-ranging influences that dust the album, it’s the underlying pop that remains a constant and what provides its grounding. And, the musicians, including a guest appearance of King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas on the Todd Rundgren/Nazz-inflected “Make It Spin,” dutifully serve each song.
This foundation allows Jones’ eccentric turns in her compositions – such as “Prisoner’s Cinema,” which initiates with a deconstructed Caribbean rhythm and percussive counterpoint from plucked guitar strings, and eventually opens up to an Yma-Sumac-exotica-like chorus. Or the bare, dark closer, “Mental Illness,” which recalls Mo Tucker’s vocals on The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours,” arrives as a stark wonderment. Yet these “turns” don’t stand out, acting as obvious pointing finger; Jones and Harlow’s seamless arrangements sneak up on the listener, like a good back-door slider, which makes Jessie Jones such a unique and knock-out debut.