Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
Oh, My Girl
h, this girl. And oh, that voice. If you rounded up every review written about Jesse Sykes’ pipes, you’d likely have every applicable adjective beginning with the letter ‘S’—silvery, smoky, sultry, sexy—and doggone it if each and every one of them isn’t true. Once upon a time in 1998, Phil Wandscher of Whiskeytown met singer/songwriter Jesse Sykes, and after performing for some time as a duo, the two were joined by violinist Anne Marie Ruljancich, bassist Bill Herzog, and drummer Kevin Warner. The rest is history: Reckless Burning, Jesse Sykes’ 2002 debut effort with The Sweet Hereafter (comprised of the aforementioned musicians), was a charming thing—alt country that didn’t overdose on twang, or go far enough off the other end to make you really sleepy. The title track—a hypnotic, seven-minutes of melancholy—was as good a sign as any that the sophomore effort of Sykes’ and her compatriots would be something to watch for.
Oh, My Girl is a successful album, by and large. There are no great stylistic leaps from Reckless Burning—which could be taken as either a good or bad sign (take your pick). You couldn’t argue that Jesse Sykes singing songs like “You Are Not Gotten Here” and “Troubled Soul” wouldn’t put you in the loveliest of musical ghost towns. “House By The Lake” includes a jazzier interlude of sorts—a welcome break from what’s been dubbed Sykes’ trademark “twang noir.” While the lyrical ground is also familiar territory with its variations of sad, a few phrases stand out: “all the world’s fuckery”, “your black eyes remind me of the dreaming dead”, “some things in life are still worth a good brawl.” I buy every word, but can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t be better. It was expected that minor keys and that bombshell of a voice would always work in Sykes’ favor, and it’s possible that Oh, My Girl is a better effort than Reckless Burning (I’m still not entirely sure; maybe I love “Reckless Burning”—the song—far too much). Still, is it too much to ask for more? Wandscher’s guitar is evocative, Ruljancich’s violin is present in all the right moments, and each of the parts to The Sweet Hereafter’s whole add something wholly distinctive to the album’s sound. (Leaving you to wonder, why aren’t they just The Sweet Hereafter? Oh, right, it’s that voice, dammit.) The potential is undoubtedly present. The execution? I’m hoping it’s in the works.
Reviewed by: Rachel Khong
Reviewed on: 2004-08-05