There’s a particular twang and swagger to Jesse Woods’ music. It’s not straight country or straight folk, but rather it’s a delightful blend of styles that is Jesse’s own. It’s also really comfortable and at times almost catchy.
The opener “Walk Along Cattle Drives” has deceptively complicated harmonics layered into the background. It sounds like it’s Woods’ own multitracking, but the blending is unprecedented. Sometimes studio magic is forgivable and this is one of those cases. “Dreams are turning inside out…” is the repetitive key lyric in this track, which seems to be both embracing and slightly teasing the western cowboy theme.
The percussion-heavy sound on “Cold Blood” pulls it out of any traditional country style, instead falling more into a pop-Americana sound (if that’s a thing?). Even still, this track just screams college rock station. “We’ve got places to be… we’ve got nothing to prove… somebody shoot me while I’m happy.” Tell me that’s not a college anthem? It’s a wry, witty, and prosaic piece that defies genres, totally for the good.
“Broken Bottle” is, unsurprisingly, about a fight. Maybe more specifically it’s about the motive of wanting to fight someone “for trying to steal my life from me.” The “broken bottle in my hand…” seems to be the weapon (or potential weapon) of choice. It’s anthemic and intriguing, with ample room for listeners to customize characteristics. “Is he going to cry like a woman after I break his jaw?” It’s the fantastical dreaming that many do before or in lieu of combat. Definitely not your average song topic and the Beach Boys’-esque “ohhhhs” on the bridge really provide a great juxtaposition with the theme of the track.
“Danger in the Dancehall” is a slower, serious track. It’s about living a young life, seeking adventure, and, well, “cuz I’m young and life’s a vacation.” But it is a serious track in that it approaches this whimsical attitude with focus. The balance of strings and Woods’ incredible natural vocal quality (a sort of perfect lead, not too high tenor or too low bass… just a comfortable and strong lead).
Another thoroughly western track is “Gold in the Air.” Ripe with references to gold in the streams and the possibility for romantic bliss, it’s a brilliant illustration of the promise of the West. The music is simple with a standard strum pattern and a few layered tracks of Woods’ vocals, but it all comes together for an almost “round the campfire” feeling. The accenting guitar on the “when she calls” refrain really gives the song the full sound that completes it.
Woods saved the best for last. “Tumbleweeds” was the first song I ever heard by Woods and the reason I’m even reviewing this album. It’s stunning. “Rolling tumbleweeds blow inside my dreams… angels fly around tone… I lassoed for wings… and I’m lucky she still sings.” Definitely the best track on the album, there’s a full sound, a mysterious message, and the relaxing sound one might expect from the predominant instrumentation on the album (acoustic guitar, backing strings, and layered vocals). Putting forth a sound more akin to Americana than country, it’s probably Woods’ defining track.
The album covers a good bit of ground. It does a good job of fleshing out an artistic signature, that is Jesse’s voice over the backing strings. The intrinsic sense of adventure helps to push an album that otherwise may have dragged given the stylistic elements. Instead, the final product is one that shows not all adventurous albums need to be cutting edge or push genre boundaries. Instead, Woods allows the music to express his attitude and perspective through heartfelt chords, strumming, and lyrics. It’s an album that many will find relaxing. The vast majority of readers who like acoustic singer songwriters along the lines of M Ward will enjoy this album quite a bit.