From the very first waltzing twang of a lone guitar on Oh, My Girl, there’s a sense of dread, ghosts, death, and acceptance. While most of Seattleite Jesse Sykes’ lyrics are poetic excursions that reveal little more than the wet ring left on a cocktail napkin, Sykes sings about all life’s fuckery with a sweet, low sound that resembles Margo Timmins or Marianne Faithfull: plain, beautiful, and dark like the clouds before a heavy storm.
Each instrument — be it the acoustic guitar, pedal steel, viola, or Wurlitzer — arrives like the start of a deliberate slow dance in the darkest corners of the darkest bar on the darkest street of a blue-collar town with no work. These are dour songs for dour times, and somehow we need them to be that way. Sykes’ introspective lyrics lend themselves to the barroom poetry of the beaten down, the wayward lost souls, and the nearly dead drunks who cry in their beers while she sings. It is the stuff of some of our greatest writers, even resembling Charles Bukowski’s finest poetry. But far, far prettier than Bukowski.
Sykes bandmates have played with some of alt-country’s finest acts (Neko Case, Citizens Utilities), but it’s the nimble guitars of Phil Wandscher that people will talk about here. His spooky Ennio Morricone-inspired style could easily fit onto the soundtrack to pulp fiction or spaghetti Westerns — on “The Dreaming Dead,” his psyche-rock surf-guitar turns a fox-trot into a spacious dream. It isn’t until “Tell the Boys” that the band plays a hair faster than a slow shuffle, and the piano sounds a tad rollicking and almost rocking in that alt-country way.
This is distinctly different from anything Barsuk has released yet: It’s mainstream, adult, and totally accessible for anyone claiming to be in the No Depression set, and I foresee it being a great big hit for radio stations that foster the roots music scene. This may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.