Singer-songwriter Jesse Terry first appeared on the music scene in 2010, and has been honing his craft over the course of four albums and over 1,000 shows around the world. His most recent album, Stargazer, was released in September 2017 and received a wealth of critical acclaim. Now Terry’s back with a new album, Natural, featuring some of his favourite female vocalists including Sarah Darling, Dar Williams, Cary Ann Hearst and Kim Richey.
The album opens with Kaleidoscope, a folk-influenced song which starts with Terry’s solo vocals and a gentle guitar melody, before Sarah Darling’s vocals come in. Their voices blend together really nicely and I liked the way the song builds up layers of melody, with extra drums and plenty of twang as it goes on. Perhaps appropriately, it also takes a slightly psychedelic turn towards the end, which adds a nice contrast. That’s followed with the midtempo Runaway Town, with its stomping railroad rhythm and uplifting lyrics giving it the feel of a 60s-style protest song.
On an album like this, the choice of guest vocalists is critical to whether the songs work, and they almost universally do. Terry has been very clever in his choice of duet partners to suit each track, whether that’s Liz Longley’s breathy sound on a cover of Mr Blue Sky (giving the song a much more plaintive feel than the ELO original), Kim Richey’s warm quality on the bright and contented Carry, or Annie Clements’ soft, wistful vocals on the rolling Looking Close Enough.
However, what ties the whole thing together is Terry, who shows off his ability as a vocalist, songwriter and guitarist throughout. He’s got a smooth quality about his vocals that makes them very easy on the ear and they tend to grow in richness as the songs go on. I also really liked the images he created on songs such as the wistful Stargazer, which had a lovely light touch to it, and the hopeful, romantic I Was An Island. Throughout the record his guitar-playing was one of the highlights and I was very impressed with the range of sounds he was able to get from it.
One of the standout songs on the album is Beautiful Way To Get Home, performed with Erin Rae. Terry’s guitar-playing has a really nice depth and richness to it, and I loved the imagery of the song, from the opening of a couple walking around a lake whilst drinking coffee to the comparison between the open highway and a jealous mistress. The harmonies between their two voices were utterly gorgeous and the strings added an extra layer of lushness. It’s a song about chasing dreams and longing for the road, and I can definitely see this being something you’d drive through the desert or along the California coastline to.
Amongst other favourite tracks for me were Noise, with its shuddering drum intro and heartstring-tugging sense of loneliness, enhanced by Dar Williams’ sweet clear vocals. Although Terry uses them sparsely, they really enhance the song and give it much more emotional impact. I also really liked the piano-led Mountain Rose, with its rolling melody, soulful feel (not least from Cary Ann Hearst’s wonderful bluesy vocal), and jangly singalong chorus.
The album closes with the title track, the only solo song on the record, which for me brings it full circle. As Terry sings about his struggle to adjust to a break-up, he draws on images from earlier songs (something which also recurs in the opening lines of Close My Eyes, which echo Stargazer), particularly in the use of natural imagery. The uplifting feel of the melody contrasts with the sadness of the lyrics, but there’s also a strange sense of hopefulness about the song, and a real feel of honesty and openness which makes it hard not to sympathise with Terry’s yearning to accept his new situation.
Overall Natural is a dreamy album full of gentle songs which are full of lush imagery. It’s clear that Terry is a talented singer and has a great turn of phrase, and he’s done a great job of tailoring each song to his partners’ vocal strengths. My only criticism is that, whilst there are a couple of more experimental moments, the similar structure of the songs can make the album feel a bit samey in places, and I would have liked to see the guest vocalists come to the fore a little more often. But it’s an easy album to listen to and would make a great soundtrack for a rainy Sunday morning or a chilled-out night at home.
Track list: 1. Kaleidoscope (featuring Sarah Darling) 2. Runaway Town (featuring Cary Ann Hearst) 3. Mr Blue Sky (featuring Liz Longley) 4. Stargazer (featuring Dar Williams) 5. Looking Close Enough (featuring Annie Clements) 6. Beautiful Way To Get Home (featuring Erin Rae) 7. Carry (featuring Kim Richey) 8. I Was An Island (featuring Kim Richey) 9. Noise (featuring Dar Williams) 10. Mountain Rose (featuring Cary Ann Hearst) 11. Close My Eyes (featuring Liz Longley) 12. Natural Record label: Jackson Beach Records Release date: 30th March 2018