Jess Wayne - 'Ride The River'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this review, I’m going to be exploring a rather fascinating up and coming artist living in Los Angeles. Douglas Jessop is a singer songwriter with a new lease on life. Last year, he brought together a world-class outfit to create the Jess Wayne Band. Before that, however, Jessop was a corporate suit - a bankruptcy lawyer who left the trade at what could have been the most profitable era of his career. During the Great Recession, he turned away from his job to focus on his poetry and songwriting - his freedom.

Now, Jessop has a full length record on the horizon entitled ‘Ride The River,’ an eclectic set of ten songs recorded with his new backing band. He’s donned the moniker of Jess Wayne for the project. Is the album worth delving into and adding to your collection of fine independent music? Yes, it is. Let’s learn, though, exactly why that is…

Perhaps the most elegant part of ‘Ride The River’ is that it does a stunning job genre hopping without intentionally doing so. Wayne and his band jump through singer songwriter musings that are chock-full of country, blues, and Americana influence. The introduction, for example, is a beautiful tune entitled ‘Taken You Home Last Night.’ It has a very ‘classic’ feel to it. Wayne’s songwriting style is immediately displayed as folksy, sending the listener down a fascinating, introspective path. If I were to align the sound, I’d argue it would probably be right at home in the early 1970s songwriting rush. (Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, and so on and so forth.)

‘Better Get Used To It’ employs some heavy blues influence, especially in regard to the key and guitar performances. Wayne holds a strong presence over the sonic landscapes he is crafting - his vocals are smooth, easy to digest, and well recorded. It helps that he’s the focus of the sound. He clearly has a very talented backing outfit, but they don’t attempt to ostentatiously overshadow him. Instead, they complement him and accentuate the atmosphere he occupies.

‘Make It Up To You’ toys with genres in a pleasant way, moving out of the Americana vibe and into the soulful vibe. This is the kind of track you’d hear if you were to dig into the later years an artist like, say, Pops Staples. I love the backing vocals as well - they’re perfectly mixed to elevate Wayne’s performance to a whole new level. ‘Hold On,’ the following track, continues the soulful theme, but even injects a little bit of classic rock into the equation. Wayne’s lyricism shines, too. Since the productions aren’t over the top, the music has to live or die on that material.

‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ is a bit of a curveball. It’s got a jazzy sound to it that plays with other ideas. The piano solo, for example, is even reminiscent of ragtime piano performance. (Shout out to John Matthew Rosenberg in regard to that - the keyboardist and co-producer of the album.) As Wayne’s vocals continue, he slowly morphs into a Broadway-esque character, firing shots across the bow at a self-indulgent ‘selfie’ generation. (Hey, his observations are not inaccurate, either.)

‘Next Time Around’ is a lovely little expedition through Wayne’s early love life. It’s a track we can all relate to - we always want it to be “better the next time around.” Its chorus is particularly infectious, as is the instrumentation. I’d actually love to hear these songs solo and acoustic - I think they’d be just as poignant and interesting. (Though I’d miss the backing vocals in songs like the melancholy ‘Why Don’t You Lie To Me.’)

‘Garden Song’ is an especially remarkable composition, perhaps even the strongest on the album. Wayne and his band exude personality, and I love the soft acoustic being complemented by an equally soft piano and percussion performance. In regard to the structure, it evokes a very similar atmosphere to that of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Blood Brothers.’ Drummer and percussionist Jimmy Ledezma is in fine form on this track - as he is throughout 'Ride The River.' One can’t get too comfortable, of course, because the track is followed by ‘How Do You Know,’ the album’s most searing blues rock track. (A song I’d argue aligns most in style and presentation with Chicago blues.)

‘All I Can Do For Now’ is a somber track, one that feels like it has a sense of finality, and thus, makes it a fitting album closer. The track makes you hungry for more. It’s the beginning of a journey - it doesn’t sound like a footnote or a finale. ‘All I Can Do For Now’ begs Wayne to compose a sequel to this collection of songs. That follow-up is very much needed, and I eagerly await it.