REVIEW: Jessica Pratt - "Jessica Pratt"

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Jessica Pratt - Jessica Pratt
Record Label - Birth Records
Release Date - November 13, 2012

We've been blessed with a great crop of female singer-songwriters this year from the rock and roll bildungsroman of Sharon Van Etten to the acrobatics of Angel Olsen to the new Cat Power record (which almost sounds like it was made by another person) and that's without totaling up Marissa Nadler's companion and our favorite Portugese band, Minta and the Brook Trout.  And with the release of her self-titled record, we can add Jessica Pratt to the list.  The inaugural release on Birth Records, the imprint of Tim Presley from White Fence, Pratt has put out a subtly adorned, sinewy, searching record.

Pratt's voice has a haunting feel reminiscent of the stripped down production of late 60s female songwriters who cut a gothic swath into the folk consciousness.  You might also want to place this record in with musicians like Espers and Meg Baird.  However, while the freak folkers and Dalton, Sybille Baier and other lo-fi goddesses seemed to eschew traditional straight-forward folk songwriting, Pratt revels in it.  Despite the seeming whisper that Pratt uses on most of this album, it's tunesmithing is remarkably straightforward.  Just a voice and a guitar.

According to Presley, he had no intention of starting a label, but it was Pratt's voice that haunted so long that he had to start one.  I have to say that I understand it completely.  There is an infectious quality to this record which reminds me of early work by Joanna Newsom and Beirut.  A musician who seems beyond-her-years with an unique vocal pattern lays down a record that seems like it could be from 50 years ago just as well as from yesterday.  The slow strum might evoke other artists from your mind, but there's no doubt of Pratt's authenticity.  Whether charging up hushed contemporary sounding tunes like the sinewy opener "Night Faces" or appropriating a more traditional form as on "Mountain'r Lower" and "Half Twain the Jesse," Pratt's more likely to evoke associations than adhere to a set pattern.  And this is the true strength of the record and Pratt's voice, it feels like it's been everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.

While Pratt's vocals will conjure up specters of Joanna Newsom's less-than-jubilant shrieking, unlike Newsom, the grandeur of Pratt's textured tunes lies in their measured sublimation.  The pensive guitar work gives the vehicle for Pratt's stylings as on opener "Night Faces."  Here, the melancholic chorus pushes stagnation and repetition over melodrama as Pratt seems to remind herself:  "And you say 'cry no tears'/ I hear you sayin / 'cry no tears' is the refrain / 'cry no tears' again."

Ghosts are heard all over this record, not only on "Casper," the ambling track where Pratt's restlessness seems to turn her into a phantasm.  In what sounds like a gently reprimanding song about self-destruction -- "when dreams cloud my mind / to take me away this time / When I walk the streets of gold / And I can't find my baby's bones" -- Pratt shows off what makes her such a welcome voice:  a straightforward, melodic sensibility which reaches into the listener's skin and drags us out by our bones.


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